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?