The State of Belonging

Church membership is probably one of the oddest innovations in Scripture. I just saw some blogger talking about how he spent a year at a church waiting to be moved from the regular list to the member list. In that time, he felt isolated, unprotected, vulnerable, like an outsider or an outcast – and that’s all the while he was attending church, small group meetings, conferences, prayer breakfasts, and who knows what else. I was thinking what a terrible church that must be – to create this rift where regulars just aren’t part of the family. Regulars just don’t get a say. Regulars just are excluded. Until they qualify for their sainted membership and the floodgates of perks, rewards, and acceptance are showered upon them like the grace of God itself.

It’s been years since I was member of a church. It was the church that I was baptized into and baptism is automatic membership for that denomination. I remember that towards the end, we had a theological disagreement and I realized that the church had disqualified itself from being my church family. So I consider my membership invalid and they considered me a heretic. It also didn’t hurt that we moved to another state. Getting away from it all helped me to heal and begin to get ready to find myself a new church family.

In all the time since, I’ve always been a regular but never a member. Sometimes it comes up: “Hey, when are you going to formally join the choice?” and I answer: “It’s scheduled for the 3rd of Never.” Usually I don’t feel like I need membership because most churches are decent enough to treat regulars with the same courtesy and respect as members; especially regulars who have attended so long that the church can’t remember whether or not they’re members in the first place.

Which is why it worries me that some churches are what the other guy described – they teach some strange idea that without their covering and protection, even regulars will find themselves getting wet when members stay nice and dry when the showers of spiritual adversity strike suddenly. They’ve got this whole vocabulary and theology to it that is probably as Biblical as anything out there, but not everything in the Bible ought to be taken literally as a prescription for what ails you. Just because Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine, it doesn’t mean it’s good medicine for what health concerns we have today.

It’s not as if the idea of membership is clearly laid down in 3rd Corinthians 4:1-28 – that describes what it is, what it ought to be like, how to qualify for it, how to be disqualified, how to discern whether a member is in good standing or not when it’s not obvious or easy to tell the difference, how to discipline him back into his senses, and finally restore him into the truth as they know it. If there ever was a church where such a text would have been needed, I bet it would have been for the Corinthians if God ever felt the need to zap it into existence, but He didn’t. No, like most teachings these days, it’s patch-work quilt sewn from various passages and proof-texted into some semi-comprehensible ideology.

I guess I can kind of see their point. Back in the day, roughly two thousand years ago – being the right kind of member opened up doors. Cults and temples were a dime a dozen. In some, it would have been somewhat easy to join, rise up the ranks, become a high priest or a high priestess. And if it no longer suited people to believe in a particular god or goddess, they could tear up their membership card and try their luck at some other cult or temple. Each one represented a new batch of friends, you could worship at the same place as the captain of the guard, or a state official, or some wealthy merchant – make the right friends, marry off your daughters to their sons and strengthen your family through religious membership as well as familial membership. Yep, if it works for ancient pagan societies, then it has to be the Biblical ideal for all of humanity in all the churches, cathedrals, chapels, temples, and worship centers until the end of time. If your membership no longer suits, why there are plenty of other churches out there to try your luck. Same deal, make new friends, marry off your daughters to their sons, and the cycle continues.

This idea of membership is just the church’s way of excluding perfectly good believers. It requires you to be a theological clone of the church in which you are a member in good standing. If your theology changes or your church changes it’s theology and you no longer match – then you have to be brought in line via discipline or disfellowshipped as the unrepentant theological rebel you are (may the force be with you!). Technically, discipline is supposed to be reserved for the really tough cases – unrepentant and blatant commandment-breaking sin, but that doesn’t stop elders from using it beyond the prescribed limits. After all, if they say that questioning a doctrinal statement is the equivalent of a rebellious attitude, then what they say goes and all those rebellious people who ask too many questions have to be disciplined so that they restore harmony and peace.

It’s a sad testament to misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture. Making believers feel that they’re outsiders who are not supposed to be embraced by the insiders lest some spiritual contagion eats away at the purity of the insiders’ faith, to be cut off from the protection of spiritual blessings and open to the elements of curses, to be made to feel that any church that would take you as you are isn’t a real, true church, but some evil shadow of one, a deception designed to pull you away from true spirituality.

Reading about the relief that the guy felt after a year was just as saddening. It sounds so much to me like being put through an initiation rite – and once you’re in, you’re on the other side. You get to do to other people what those people did to you. After feeling the sting of exclusion for a year, you get to exclude your fellow outcasts who were there for you when you were one of them. But now you’re not so it’s okay to walk into the inner door while they’re not allowed in. I guess being an insider means you have no guilt about turning your back on those other people.

Let’s not forget this is a high-commitment country club, I mean, one true church. Not only must everything be done one way, you have responsibilities to see to it that everyone you bring in with you falls in line. When they say “show up” you have no excuse for not being there. When they say “pay up” all you have to do is ask “how much?” You now go where they send you and do what they tell you. You’re not really allowed to make mistakes. Yep, that’s the perks of membership.

Take it from this outsider, there’s plenty of great people out here who would be thrilled to get to know you – the thing is, your church would never accept us. Some of us have tried and failed to meet the laundry list of qualifications to join it, some of us know not to bother with the attempt. We even have this really amazing teacher – you might have heard of him – his name is Jesus. He works with us and through us all of the time. He’s there welcoming the unwelcomed, qualifying the unqualified, befriending the friendless, protecting the vulnerable, and so much more. When membership doesn’t satisfy you, you might want to give Him a try, I hear that there’s no membership required.

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Odd Combination

When we first moved to the county and began to look for churches, we eagerly searched for contemporary worship services. Our last church, which was non-denominational, had been a refreshing change from the one before.

The church before also offered a contemporary worship style, but it was dated – singing older new songs more frequently and newer songs much less frequently. But for the contemporary music it offered, it’s theology took a turn into complementarianism in a big way. What that meant was that as members of the youth group, the girls would be shamed into stop volunteering to lead prayers (because they shouldn’t) and the boys would be shamed into volunteering to lead prayers (because they should). Apparently, the adult classes would regularly go over Ephesians 5:22-33 where the women would be shamed into stop leading their families (because they shouldn’t) and the men would be shamed into starting to lead their families (because they should). You see, this teaching didn’t fit my family and we weren’t interested in trying to squeeze ourselves into such narrow rules trying to make ourselves fit them. The church had changed, or perhaps we had changed too much for the church to accept us or our beliefs. We were asking questions, dangerous questions, apparently. Was the pastor right in saying that the only way to be saved was to believe that every word he preached was true? That Creationism, Immersion Baptism, and whatever else he taught were nonnegotiable must-have rights of passage to be accepted into heaven? What about my Catholic friend? What if she didn’t believe as my friends and I had been taught all our lives? Would she burn in the fires of hell for having a different understanding of Jesus? Surely, if Jesus is all we need, then is it even necessary to believe in Creationism or Complementarianism? The last sermon we listened to the pastor, he referred to a popular drink among us members of the youth group – suicide. It’s when you can’t decide which kind of pop you want to drink so you mix a little bit of all of them all together. What he was saying that to mix together different theologies was the equivalent of spiritual suicide which would condemn us to Hell. Not only did we have to believe the right things the right way, any mixed up beliefs wouldn’t save us. It was then that I realized that from the start I never had pure beliefs. You see, my grandparents church belonged to another denomination that taught differently. After going through all this, we had begun to be wary of the Creationism/Complementarian theology. We thought that the non-denominational church would avoid having the same problem. Sadly, they also believed in it. Surely, we hoped, when we moved to the new state and county there wouldn’t be any of this toxic teaching.

We were wrong. We found a good contemporary church – but in our time there a deacon used his power to push for more complementarian teachings. When we asked some serious questions about it – they made their position clear. So we knew that the welcome mat would no longer be left out for us. The next church didn’t really push complementarianism, but it was a by-law, something that their actions revealed in the responsibilities and interactions of men and women.

So we tried another denomination – Methodism. For the first time in over a decade there was no complementarian teachings, but we also had to sacrifice contemporary worship.

I said all of that to think about the relationship between contemporary worship and complementarian teaching. It feels like a ‘bait and switch’ tactic, but I know that it goes deeper. Some of it might be fear – fear of being viewed as a church that’s too far to the left, a church that had no regard for sin. Why, a contemporary church with egalitarian teaching might hire a woman as a pastor, or let women teach men, or let men teach children, or let men cook. They might be okay with same-sex families or have no problem with polygamous families. The authority of the Bible would be questioned and all Hell would literally break lose. Many of the churches in this region that are contemporary and complementarian are also Southern Baptist, but they tend to directly indicate that is what they are. Their signs might say “community church” or “worship center”, they might belong to a church association or network that doesn’t clearly mention it’s an off-shoot of the Southern Baptists, but they’re as deeply entrenched and widely spread in this region as kudzu is.

In this county, a massive contemporary / complementarian church had an epic split not that long ago. Since I’ve visited the church only a few times, I’m more of an outsider than an insider. One would think that such a church, built on biblical inerrancy, a fledgling mega-church in and of itself would be tough on sin. But that could very well have been the thing that made the house of cards fall (along with word-of faith type prosperity gospel teaching and legalistic tithing requirements). Half of it’s elders (all men, by the way) left. It’s entire staff also quit. It’s youth pastor became the new lead pastor of the second church. Both churches are now shells of what they used to be – but both remain contemporary / complementarian churches. I don’t think that being contemporary or teaching complementarianism directly lead to the split – but were they a traditional church, fewer people would have been involved. Were the egalitarian then some of the underlying issues wouldn’t have been as likely to have happened.

We haven’t yet found a contemporary church that doesn’t teach complementarianism. So I have to wonder what the connection is that keeps them together. Contemporary worship is all about doing things differently as they were done before. Complementarian teaching is all about doing things exactly the same as they were done before. So on any given Sunday, the congregation might sing “Come as you are to worship …” and yet hear a sermon decrying the evils of non-traditional families. Somehow ‘new’ and ‘old’ together seem to be a common pattern for this region in the form of contemporary complementarian and traditional egalitarian churches. While odds are good that there are traditional complementarian churches; I wonder what explains the absence of contemporary egalitarian churches.

When I talk about this problem, people constantly tell me the same thing, if you don’t like McDonalds, go eat at Burger King. That’s easier said than done when the only restaurants in town are all McDonalds and the nearest Burger King is a few hours away – just far enough to be too long of a drive and too difficult to become a member to participate in events and parties. Some who live in cities don’t understand why there aren’t at least one of each McDonald, Burger King, Sonic, Rally’s, Steak’n’Shakes, Hardee’s, A&W, White Castle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Culver’s in each and every community. Truth is, most of them are far too small to support such a varied array of burger joints. Same goes for churches, almost all of the churches in my county belong to the same denomination, they offer the same music and the same teaching from one to the next. The only thing that varies are the people you’ll meet when you go there. This is to illustrate that there is usually very little choice one has as to which church to join. Most of the denominations don’t exist out here – and the ones that do exist out here aren’t very different from one church to the next.

It’s a miserable reality – to have known something that was good in contemporary worship, but to have experienced a lot of frustration with complementarian teaching. To have known something that was good in egalitarian teaching but the same frustration with traditional worship. I thought that the solution was to just bring along my MP3 player, but getting an opportunity to listen to my music is never easy. So we’ve discovered something of a compromise; to continue attending the traditional egalitarian church in the morning and to stream through the internet a contemporary egalitarian church service in the evening.

Sight

We always see things from the same angle … It’s much less trouble that way. Besides, it makes more sense to grow down and not up.

Something that recently happened reminded me of one of my favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth. Apparently it’s a great read for people who are having spiritual issues and need to develop a framework of re-thinking by challenging what they believe in a non-threatening way. Anyway, the character that I was reminded of was Alec Bings. You see, Alec was born in the air. His head is at his adult height. All his life he will grow down until he is capable of walking on the ground. Milo wasn’t so certain it was a good thing to always see things from the same angle. As he grows, the angle from which he sees things will change.

I remember this massive red slide in the park that I used to play in as a kid – it was the biggest slide I had seen anywhere. I used to climb up forever just to reach the top so that I could slide down – this slide was spiral shaped, so it sent me around, and around, and around. A few years later, we decided to see what the old park was like. Nothing had changed but the slide seemed smaller. It wasn’t so much of a climb and it didn’t seem to go around as much. It wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.

But of course, as we grow more than our height changes – our perspective alters with each and every experience that we have. We don’t see things the exact same way. Vegetables that we thought we hated turn out to be delicious. Songs we thought we liked turn out to be horrible. And yet, some things we love don’t change. But we do change.

Alec’s family had another quirk … Alec could see through things, but never what was directly ahead of him. Everyone else saw everything differently – one relative saw to things, another under things, and still another saw the other side of every question. All of them had a different point of view.

So I suppose you could say that I’m well versed in this idea that all of us have a different perspective when we try to answer the same question. I know that my background shapes and informs my understanding. For me, my thoughts are something like stars in the sky – they line up to form a constellation and it results in rather stellar post; at least, from my point of view. Someone who thinks more like branches on a tree might misunderstand me as I might misunderstand them. But all that matters is that we both learn something, right?

What scares me though is that the way that Christianity is taught, it can create a narrow understanding from which to draw one’s perspective. In theory, if you train ten people with the one right and true understanding of Scripture, then they’ll all see the same things in the same way and believe the same things, right?

But that’s not a picture that the Bible gives us. One metaphor that is heavily used is that of a human body. Different parts, different functions, different gifts – and yet united. By training people to be the exact same way, it doesn’t take into account how the Holy Spirit might move one to be a foot, another a hand, another a knee, another an elbow, and the rest to all be something different. Feet and hands and knees and elbows should not be identical or indistinguishable. They should all allow their own perspective to manifest so that they can provide the church with a more complete sense of vision.

It does not bode well for the body to war against itself, branding other parts to be heretics or demanding them to reform – to change to their point of view and forsake their own. No two people can see things the same way. I just wish that other people saw it that way.

New Versions of the Same Old Story

After watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was disappointed to see the reviews that called it a remake of A New Hope. Sure, there were a lot of similarities. The movies are set in the same universe. It would be unbelievable if it were to be completely different – as unbelievable as the sequel to ‘Water World’ being set thirty years after the original on the same world, only this time in a world-wide desert. As unacceptable as the sequel to Star Trek being set in the Star Gate Universe.

To be honest, human history is the same old story, the same song and dance. We see it in Judges, First Kings and Second Kings; either the people of Israel would go their own way and end up in trouble that only the judge whom God raised up for them could get them out of, or each generation of ruler was progressively worse than the one before in imaginative ways of doing evil. The point isn’t so much that it is the same story told over again, it’s whether or not the next generation is doomed to follow in the footprints of the one before it.

In the Star Wars universe, it’s been established that Luke is the last Jedi, members of his family are strong in the force – and since Jedi excel at turning from the light side to dark and back again, it shouldn’t be surprise that Luke’s relatives are force sensitive and on both sides. So it should not be a surprise that the new story proceeds from the old story. It should be understood that the same basic rules still apply because the concept of the Force is very well explained in previous stories and it would stretch belief if it were to break it’s own rules. For every vacuum of power, somebody rises to fill it – and a few decades is barely enough time to restore peaceful order to a galaxy ruled by the dark-side, so it should be no surprise that the First Order took advantage of the situation to gain what foothold they did.

So when I noticed some familiar elements, I wondered: “Will this character be able to resist the temptation of the dark side? Will that character be redeemed and restored to the light side? If so, will people find it easy to trust him? What does it look like when a former dark-side devotee becomes a reformed light-side Jedi? Will this other character fall under the power of the dark side? If so, what motivates them to do so?

With Luke, there was never really a doubt that he would remain on the light-side. With Anakin, we saw him fall to the dark-side, but we never saw the struggle of a him returning to the light-side, wrestling with the destruction he caused and deaths he was responsible for while avoiding the lure of being called back into the dark-side. With Leia, she barely began to understand that she had some force sensitivity, but she never seemed to want to explore it. With Han, the question was whether or not he would revert to being a shady smuggler or would continue to change for the better.

To some degree, these have to be the same story just to explore every variation there is in the theme – there has to be something good that fights against the something evil, the judge that is raised up to rescue everybody for the umpteenth time, the king that is more evil than the king before him – just to see if there will be a time when peace reigns for decades or a good ruler will come to the throne – having learned from the mistakes of the past and set all the wrongs right.

This is, after all, the human story – about betrayal and redemption, right and wrong, good and evil, cruelty and compassion – whether it’s in one of our oldest books or newest films, we are not to hate the repetitive patterns that exist but look out for the hope that as bad as things gets, there’s always a choice and there’s always hope even for the worst of us and forgiveness for the best of us, and when we lose our way, there will always be someone to help us find it again.

Worship, Your Way and/or Mine

I’ve always been curious about how other churches run their worship services. Do they have have the same order? Do they include things that we exclude? Do they sing the same songs? Sadly, it seems that there’s not much variety in denominations or styles in this region, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in trying out the different churches. Probably because we’ve sworn never to knowingly visit nor attend a complementarian church ever again and those churches are a dime a dozen out here.

It scares me how possessive people can get about worship; ‘This and only this kind of music is proper, that kind or those songs are improper.’ or ‘Absolutely nothing is more important than the culmination of worship, which is x not y and certainly not z.’ I keep on getting in the conversations about worship where it’s adherents are set on liturgy and the Eucharist as the culmination of worship. That’s true for denominations that put the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper / Communion at the end of their order of worship (liturgy.) My denomination doesn’t do that, for us the culmination of worship is the preaching of the word, it’s very nearly the last thing we do in our order of worship (liturgy.) For us, Communion comes in towards the middle of the service. Come to think of it, I’ve never been to a church that put worship (music) as the culmination of worship (the last thing on the order of worship a.k.a., the liturgy.) Sure, there’s usually final hymn, but that’s more of a closing song than it is a worship song. (The difference between a song with a reference to leaving and a song about praising God’s majesty.)

When it comes right down to it, I guess I feel somewhat annoyed with the idea that there are people out there who hate everything about how my church does worship. One of the sayings that bothers me most is: “There’s a right way to worship God and a wrong way to worship God …” Nobody out there ever seems to think that their way of worshiping God might not be the right one. If there is one right way, then theirs is most certainly it every single time. Which is why we’re so polarized about styles and preferences and traditions. We have been for centuries.

For nearly a hundred years, pretty much every worshiper in every denomination in England followed the liturgy laid down in the Book of Common Prayer. When it was updated in 1662, some believers found that they just couldn’t agree with it. These were the early non-conformists (and dissenters) nearly two thousand of them were ejected from the church in one day. Ever since there has been disagreement about forms and order of worship, of liturgy and tradition. The odds aren’t good that this will be the year that every church on the face on the of this planet reconciles their differences and unites to form the one true expression of worship, everywhere.

The only difference is that this battle is no longer just Anglican vs Protestant, but in each and every denomination fighting among itself and down to its individual churches. It’s almost as if, for some churches, they look around and wonder where everybody’s gone. They remember that the pews were more full than they were empty, that there more people of all ages, and the halls were noisier with people laughing and talking over each other. Then one day they look around and realize that the pews are almost entirely empty, that there’s fewer people and only people around their age, and the halls have become disturbingly quiet. At that point they’re willing to change, but they lack the resources and the people to make it happen. Or they could do what some churches have done, create two services, one traditional and one contemporary but never will the two halves of the church form a whole congregation. Or they could try a blended service, but too much attention to hymns might not pack in younger people who might perceive it to be a bait and switch tactic; “Come for our blended service! We sing brand new songs!” Only to realize that they have to endure three hymns before they get to one brand new song. It’s better to do 50/50 than to show favoritism.

Still, we all have different ideas about what the most important part of worship; Eucharist, Preaching of the Word, Music, and I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon when two of those camps see the light and switch the one true expression of worship (as if such a thing exists). In centuries of fighting over worship styles, it hasn’t worked out that way yet and it might not at all. I get it, the way my church does worship isn’t right for you. The way your church does worship, might not necessarily be right for me even if it is the oldest, most traditional form of worship or the newest least traditional form of worship. I just think that it’s time that we stop calling each other names for challenging our narrow views of worship. Music is music, in all it’s forms. Preaching is from the same source material, in all it’s languages. Communion, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, same idea in all it’s variations. Worship doesn’t have to be fighting to have it your way.

Refocus

Refocus is not a word that has a positive connotation for me. At some point in Middle School, it was decided that the best way to improve an errant child’s behavior was to ‘issue a refocus’. It was a red folder with a simple form:
What I did wrong:
What I ought to have done:
Why I didn’t do the right thing:
What I will do the next time:
Students who completed one was supposed to sign it and it would end up in their permanent folders. Once three refocuses had been issued, the parents would be brought in and shown the file to talk about appropriate courses of action to correct chronic misbehavior.

I still remembered the lesson I learned the first and only time I was issued one … It was lunchtime for the students in my grade, one of the few times that students could interact with other classes which was usually a good thing for friends who could sit by each other. Not so much for me. I had just gotten my tray and sat down in my usual spot at my usual table with my back turned to the two trouble-makers so I had no way of seeing the grapes that they were throwing at me coming but I felt them hit me and I turned around to see the two guilty-looking trouble-makers who didn’t have any grapes left on their trays because they had thrown them all at me. Being a devout Christian who had just learned about the Golden Rule at church, I reciprocated – throwing the grapes right back at them. The two trouble-makers had the good fortune of initiating the grape-throwing when the lunch monitor’s back was turned; I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky and was immediately caught.
“You mustn’t be hungry if you’re throwing food around like that. I’m taking away your tray and issuing you a Refocus.” The lunch monitor said, handing me a red folder. I opened it and took out a form, in the other pocket was a red pencil.

“What I did wrong.” The first line read. I was a little puzzled. The Golden Rule was pretty clear – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They threw grapes at me, which was not nice, so they must have wanted me to throw grapes back at them and not be nice about it. There really wasn’t a lot of room on the form to explain the whole story, so I wrote ‘threw grapes’.

“What I ought to have done.” Now I was confused. What ought one to do when somebody throws something at them? Usually if somebody sees it coming they can duck or get out of the way of the thing that is being thrown at them. But what ought somebody to do if they were hit by something they didn’t see coming? Just let people throw things at me all day long? I could just imagine walking down the hallway and these two trouble-makers stopping to say, ‘hey isn’t that the kid that doesn’t mind if you throw stuff? Let’s throw a book – ten points if you hit the stomach and fifty points for the head.’ A stand-by option was to tell the teacher or lunch monitor, but this was B.C. – before Columbine – so the only thing that results from that is a ‘tattle-tale’ reputation which I really didn’t need at the time, so I wrote ‘not throw grapes’.

“Why I didn’t do the right thing.” That was an easy one; I wrote ‘I don’t know’. I just hoped that the lunch monitor didn’t ask for clarification.
“What I will do the next time.” I didn’t relish that though, that this would happen again. If it did, all I could say is that I would not throw grapes again – so that’s what I wrote. I made no promises about not throwing food or anything else in general; it’s best not to volunteer information or make a promise that can’t be kept.

Now that I was done with the Refocus Form, had thought about what I did wrong and what the right thing to do was, why I didn’t do the right thing and what I would do next time, there wasn’t anything left to do but to wait for my fifteen minutes of detention to be up so that I could go to recess. Once my time was up the lunch monitor collected the Red Folder and said, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson. You may go now.” On my way to the playground I stopped by my locker and took a snack out of my bag to tide me over until I got home.

The lesson I had learned was not to not throw grapes, it was not to count on adults to tell the difference between two bullies and a kid who was tired of being bullied. It was that it was pointless to stand up for myself because I’d get in trouble for it. It was that the safest course of action was avoidance. Which is probably why I was a mite sensitive about objects being thrown at me. The next time it happened it was also in a cafeteria and it was a carrot. I froze – not knowing what course of action to take other than to not throw it back. I was older, so I was able to bottle up my emotions for the next few hours until I got home where it was safe to be upset that it had happened again. This time it was A.C. – after Columbine – but schools really hadn’t figured out how deal with the micro-aggressions of everyday bullying but they had finally begun to take it seriously. Better late than never, I guess.

Representative

I’ve been thinking about representation. Very nearly a year ago, The Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome spent four days discussing “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference”

The council was made up of cardinals and bishops who were all single men talking about and making decisions for all the women in the Church; however women make up half of the church and a majority of the church’s active members. The leadership of the Catholic church is made up almost entirely of single men, making decisions for single and married men, as well as single and married women. The leadership over-represents the single men (who are most like them), sort of represents married men and single women (who have something in common), and under-represents married women (who are least like them).

The Protestant Reformation occurred, in part, due to the ‘no marriage for clergy’ rule. Luther challenged that by changing the rule so that clergy could marry and closing down convents – which was the alternative for single women. Soon their leadership was made up of married men making decisions for everyone else. With an over-representation for married men, a sort-of representation for single men and married women, and an under-representation of single women.

In both cases, the church fails to have a truly representative leadership structure. I know – 1 Timothy 3 established the rule that leaders must be men. At least, that’s how we read it today. But looking back at church history, we can see that rule was bent and broken on a few occasions; most notably with the Order of the Widows. Today, when a woman becomes a widow, she can lose her position in the church (if her husband was a deacon or elder) and her friendship network can decrease by 75%. The Order of the Widows gave women a ministry opportunity in the church that kept them connected to each other and younger women. The widows even sat among the rest of the leadership, with the elders, presbyters, and deacons. Their input was valued. They represented both married and single women. Somehow women lost their representatives in the church.

A group of leaders who all share similar life experiences can all have the same blind-spots. This is something that’s pretty easy to notice when you catch things that others miss. Because I’m left-handed in a right-handed world, there’s been quite a few times that bad product design just leaves me annoyed and frustrated that some items are just useless. Likewise, leadership made up of all married men or all single men have two sets of blind-spots; one on account of their relationship status and another on account of being men. But when you share the same blind-spots as others do, then you won’t notice the things that you can’t see that you’re missing.

It’s why I’ve always believed in having a diverse set of leaders or advisers – to balance out every perspective and to get a fuller picture of the needs of the whole group. But to fix the major blind-spot in Christianity, we’d have to disregard how we read 1 Timothy 3 today and recognize a few of our own blind-spots. For one, the original curiously lacks the male pronouns that the English emphasizes. The only exception is in the phrase ‘one woman man’ which is translated to ‘the wife of one husband’ which is an idiom for ‘a faithful spouse’ – used of both men and women. Because of the Order of the Widows as well as Junia and Phoebe – there is historical and biblical precedent for women serving as leaders.

We might also wish to consider the viability of having married only or single only leadership given that this world has reached a 50/50 ratio of singles and married couples. The qualification that leaders be people who manage their own houses well doesn’t take into account all the households of one. Short-term singles in long-term dating relationships (not-married, but not single either – this sort of relationship isn’t always met with enthusiasm by the elders who might say things like: “You’ve been dating for four years? Why haven’t you put a ring on her finger yet?”), long-term singles who were never married, newly widowed, newly widower-ed, divorced individuals, and single parents all show that being single represents a wide variety of life situations that can be totally different.

I don’t think Paul would have wanted to create a church that would exclude him from leadership on account of his singleness; I think he was just saying that whoever the leaders are – if they’re married they must be faithful and if they have families they must have good kids who respect them. It’s pretty short sighted for him to make a rule that all leaders must be married men with families when he himself was single. After all, Paul’s first concern was the church’s reputation – that nothing bad could be said about the believers or their beliefs, married believers cheating on their spouses or disobedient, stubborn, and wild children can create scandals that can ruin a church’s reputation. Single believers don’t have to worry about being disqualified by an unfaithful spouse or naughty child.

Perhaps what really concerns me most is seeing the failure of churches that don’t have a wide representation of it’s members – times when the same blind-spots result in the same scandals over and over again. Not long ago, the movie Spotlight showed that a blind-spot in the Roman Catholic Church resulted in abuse – the same abuse that happens in the Protestant churches because the leaders couldn’t see the danger and couldn’t tell the difference between the wolves in their midst and the sheep. The difference is that the Protestants lack a centralized leadership, so there’s no way to hide what’s going on in a big bureaucracy; but there’s such a hush-hush attitude about it, there’s no need for a bureaucracy to hide it. It’s how the other church almost got away with it – until people compared their experiences with each other when they realized that their representatives were keeping their complaints quiet.

Paul believed in representation in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.I think he would have believed in it not just to ‘win’ people but also to keep people in the family; seeing to it that they were represented, their needs were recognized, and their voices were heard.

The dictionary definition of represent is: To stand in the place of; to supply the place, perform the duties, exercise the rights, or receive the share, of; to speak and act with authority in behalf of; to act the part of (another); as, an heir represents his ancestor; an attorney represents his client in court; a member of Congress represents his district in Congress. The question remains – does your church do a great job at representing you?