Classes that Won't Seat Women

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How should complementarian classes encourage women to use their gifts in classis? 

Dawn is a member of a church within a classis that won't seat women. In a comment on a previous posting (and on other forums) she shared that this leads her to the conclusion that classis is a broken structure and should be replaced. 

Even though I believe all offices of the CRCNA should be open to women I've got doubts about Dawn's position. Part of this arises from my ideas about how culture and gospel work together in church structure. 
 
My experience in other cultural contexts in the US and overseas leads me to believe that church structures need to reflect both the gospel (none do so perfectly) as well as the culture of the community. If the structure is too far out of alignment with the cultural understanding of community the church structure will be unintellible and probably abusive and unproductive. 
 
For this reason I am disinclined to advocate for a synodical level effort to force these classes to change their policies. I think the present denominational position is appropriate for where we are at culturally, allowing each classis to determine its own position. Understanding cultural contexts and accomodating cultural needs is more than just recognizing the needs of communities defined by ethnicity or language. 
 
Dawn is persistent if she's anything and she has brought me to think about the reality of seeing classis narrowly as a delegated voting body that appears and evaporates two or three times a year. Unlike congregation/council, and denomination/synod, we have one word for classis/classis. I think complementarianism is as much a cultural position as a hermenutical one and if it is pursued any classis that does not recognize women elders or pastors must somehow find a way to embody the principle in the classis in some better way than having women serve the lunch. 
 
In 2006 I visited Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC and had the priviledge of not only meeting with Tim Keller but also with his church staff. Redeemer is part of the PCA which does not permit women to be elders. I spent an day meeting with most of the heads of ministry groups in the church and to my surprise found that most of them were women. If you want to hear Tim and Kathy Keller's position on Women in Office there are recorded talks on the Redeemer website and probably other places on the Internet. Even though I disagree with the Kellers' position on women elders I was pleasantly surprised to see how much positional power, control and responsibility women had in their church.
 
Again, I do not advocate for the PCA position that Redeemer is in compliance with. My sympathies are more with my friends at City Church San Francisco, a church similar to Redeemer (complete with former Redeemer staffers) who left the PCA for the RCA. Yet for those who are working to embody a complementarian ethos it seems to me that something else is needed in classis to bring expression to this position than simply a prohibition.
 
Cultures that I know who can't envision women pastors or elders (if they have elders) at this moment almost all have other positions for women within their cultures of great power and responsibility that afford expression of a complementarian ethos, valuing the gifts, leadership and expression of both sexes. I think classes that wish to try to develop the complementarian ethos should see this as part of the package. 
 
Now I write this post with a great deal of hesitation because I don't wish to ignite a Women-in-Church-Office flame war. This debate has been a part of my experience in the CRC for all of my life. We've too often handled this conflict poorly. At the same time I think the topic is worth discussing. 
 
Do you believe the existence of CRC classes that don't seat women elders condemns classis as a structure? If so, what should replace it? 
 
If you are a complementarian, how should that ethos be reflected in classis? If you have a complementarian classis what concrete steps are you pursuing to give expression to God's gifts given to women? 
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Thanks for the write-up, Paul. I understand your perspective on this. However, I encourage you to read what you wrote by replacing the word "Dawn" with "a minority male" and the word women with "minority men" etc. You seem to be suggesting "Hey, if the culture doesn't want black men to participate, then let's roll with it." If we really had a part of the country that did not want black people at classis, would you suggest that is fine? 

The issue for me is no longer that there is discrimination in the world. I know I am not going to be able to get the Catholic church to change and have women priests, for example, nor even change CRC churches that wish to keep blocking women. Where this rips at my conscience, much as it likely does for someone opposed to women (outside of the kitchen and bedroom) to see women voting at a classis meeting, is when I realize that I really seem to be willing to be a member of a country club that does not permit minority tee times. I am appalled by myself for participating in this injustice. 

Why am I willing to continue to do something that is so clearly wrong to me? This is also not about me, it is about the willingness to continue to help our society perpetuate a place for women that is tied into many much more dreadful treatments of women both in and outside of North America. By being a member of a classis that blocks women, what is my involvement in the mistreatment of women in other ways around the world? My email tagline was once "think globally, act locally." 

I do agree with you on this point "I am disinclined to advocate for a synodical level effort to force these classes to change their policies." I do not think it would be good to drag this through synod for a few more rounds either. Enough people have been battered and many have left the denomination to get to this point. I was in a PCUSA service on Easter with former CRC members, for example. 

You seem willing to accept a few black men blocked from our classes, or the analogous. Hey ho, not everyone thinks the Bible tells us that we need to include minorities in our work, so let's not rock the boat. I think we are being complicit in some terrible ills in the world by blocking women, just as we would be if blocking minorities. I understand that others are fine with it, but our structure requires that I participate in this injustice rather than more simply living side by side with it. So, given that we agree that it would not be good for synod to address it, let's at least take a first step to make classis as irrelevant as possible and then work to put in place a new structure that does not have this problem. I hope you can at least understand my disappointed that the denomination seems to be putting a bunch of resources toward this remaining women-blocking organization that I am compelled to be part of if I remain CRC.

Does that make any sense to you?  --dawn

Community Builder

Thanks Dawn for commenting. 

I understand your argument and I feel the force of your analogy. I would far rather the CRCNA had never inserted "male" into article 3 in 1965 rather than going through all we've gone through. It would certainly have been better if the church had simply allowed women to be office bearers at the places and times they were locally selected and then proceeded into the other assemblies as it happened. I'm glad the CRCNA never put an ethnic modifier into Article 3. 

I believe based on what we find in the Bible women have in the Old Testament, in Jesus' ministry and in the New Testament played a prominent role in the movement of God's kingdom. It seems clear to me that from the women who supported Jesus in his ministry, to Lydia and Junia and others women were not in God's eyes any less important than men. I cannot explain why the twelve apostles were all Jews and all men apart from the mission and the context of that time and place. The rest of the New Testament is insufficient in my opinion to adequately sex the ancient church leadership. Lynn Cohick's book on Women in the World of the Earliest Christians is enlightening in terms of revealing a world no less complex than our own.

I've worked in contexts where there were only male pastors (and all with dark skin) and in my present church we haven't had a male elder (just female, some white some black) for a number of years. In each context I believe I've been working in the church, always flawed, but also loved by Jesus. 

I want to be slow to find fault with my brothers and SISTERS who see the Bible as espousing a complementarian picture of gender roles in the church. I might not agree with their Biblical interpretation, but I'm not ready to denounce their effort. As with many things we disagree on in the church (and outside of it too), part of justice is not only the demand for just outcome, but also allowing just and therapeutic process. Whatever position these groups come to, I want them to come to it freely. It's out of that same position that I won't impinge on your process of promoting your perspective with them. This was part of why I wrote this post, to give you the opportunity to speak your mind on this issue. 

I cannot say that if I were in your position that I would not do what you are doing. You are feeling the force of this prohibition in a way that I have never. You desire to use your gifts in the broader assembly of the church and you are blocked. I can understand your anger and I won't ask you to not be angry or to not speak your mind. 

I do also have empathy for my brothers and sisters who see things differently. 

Part of the role of a classis is to afford a fair process where we can either live with conflict we cannot settle or process conflict in a fair and healthy way. Conflict is one of the most important and difficult areas of life. All conflict requires humility, patience and prayer. 

I won't be surprised if someone comments that the classical structure has failed because it allows women elders and that allowing them to be delegates violates the Word of God. I pray that our disagreements and the processes that we employ to deal with them creates strong communities of love and justice and that through our conflicts we grow in obedience and compassion. pvk

Community Builder

I'd also like to note that the person who led Classical Renewal, a process that I believe greatly helped the CRC rework many classes was Thea Leunk. Her leadership helped many classes around the US and Canada (whether they seated women or not) to re-vision their classis, restructure and revive. I think her efforts in the story of the CRC and classis should not be overlooked. 

Participant

Honestly, I think if we were more open to the prophetic gifting of the Holy Spirit, which is clearly biblical to include women in that gifting based on numerous passages, including Acts 2:17-18, that would be a huge boost for our denomination.  From my perspective, we seem to be hesitant in gaining further understanding of what that prophetic gifting looks like and how to incorporate it into the structure and culture of our denomination (please let me know if I'm wrong and so maybe not aware of it as I only speak from my experience and knowledge via discussions, the banner, network, and other crc forums).    Maybe there should be believers with prophetic gifting included at classis and other governing gatherings?   just saying, I'm not seeing a place for this gift to be shared in our current structure, particularly if a woman has this gift.

Yes, please note that I applaud all of the good things done by all of the fine people related to classis. My point is that we have a limit in our ability to thrive as a denomination that directly relates to a classis structure that has no means to purge the wrongs it is perpetuating both in the denomination and in the world. If anyone has a road map that shows us opening up all classes to women without going through synod (something that no one I know thinks would be a good approach), then I'm all ears. Not only is such a road map lacking, no one at all is working on it.

Maybe we hope that all people who really care about the problems faced by women in the world or who think we are complicit in such wrongs have left for greener pastures. They have not all left, however. We can guess that most of those whose conscience was bound by having women church officers has left, given that we now permit women to be seated and voting at synod. Those of us who grew up CRC and are pro-women have surely gained patience. Many have decided to simply be quiet on this topic for the duration. In any case, whether we are quiet or not, classis has a fatal illness. We have no means of fixing it. So, when you write about the joy of combining classes with the RCA, you are raising up healthy classes, perhaps pretending this could ever happen across our denomination in some positive way. While I realize no one wants to hear the "b" word and I surely know that no one is intending their behaviors to come from any form of biogry, when I heard you extol the virtues of classis (and there surely are some), it "feels" like you are saying "Hey, CRC -- we can be healthier if we put more eggs in our biogtry basket."  Do you understnd why I hear it this way?

Ok, so a plan to move beyond it -- you know I have painted a broad stroke picture that would accomplish this. There are many ways to do this, but all of them are big, not tiny little steps. On the "tiny steps now" front what we can do is talk about what is happening regionally without mentioning classis. Then we include all churches and members of those churches. We could start by renaming this blog "Church regions" and try to narrow our discussion of classis down to only those things where we know that we are blocking women and that is simply where our denomination is right now. Let's now bring up the "c" word anywhere else. It is a painful part of our denomation and one that none of us knows how to redeem. The efforts to try can make some positive changes in the world, no doubt, but none that could not also be made by a focus on how to work with churches within regions. 

I'm just tossing this out for discussion. It really is the case that if anyone could lay out a plan that would eliminate the bigotry that our classis represents through some means other than to come up with a way to eliminate the "culture of classis" from our midst, I'm all ears.  Cheers!  --dawn

Community Builder

Respectfully, Dawn, your analogizing to racial prohibitions doesn't work.  Although culture may play a role in limiting the office of elder to men (as Paul repeatedly says), there is more to it than that.  There is a good faith, Scripture-based, argument that women should not be permitted to teach or have authority over men.

Before you jump all over me, understand I've come to the view that Scripture does NOT prohibit women from being elders or ministers.  I came to that position by very closely examining the question when I was a synodical delegate in 1992, assigned to the committee that dealt with whether or not to ratify a prior synodical decision to open the offices of elder/minister to women.  I decided then, and publically said so, that I thought Scripture does NOT prohibit women from serving as elder/women, I still did NOT think the CRCNA should remove the CO exclusion of women from those offices.

Why?  For the same reason that the folks at Jerusalem in Acts 15 did not make their decisions based solely on "theological correctness" -- the unity of the church, a much greater mandate, was at stake.

Let me repeat: there is a good faith Scripture-based argument for excluding women from the office of elder/minister.  Conversely, there is not a good faith, Scripture-based argument for excluding persons with certain racial characteristices from those offices.  And as to women in office, if I need to choose between the unity of the church (whether the "other side" has a good faith argument) and fencing individual women (or men for that matter) out from one of the many, many, many ways to serve their Creator, I'm going with unity.  Did then, still will.

So does this mean women will "always suffer this injustice?"  Probably not.  Consider what Paul told a slave who left his master and how history has developed since then.

Personally, I find more than enough ways to serve God without being an elder.  Indeed, I resolved to "bear with women" since Synod of 1992.  I've not been an elder since (I regularly decline nomination).  Frankly, I have found that a bit liberating: it has allowed me to do other things that I find I enjoy more and would judge more profitable in many ways.  These days, I spend my "discretionary time" doing more cooking.  I'm a regular for the annual Cadet breakfast and the Thanksgiving meal served to 100+ every year.  I teach more Sunday school.  I take care of a neighborhood park that hadn't been taken care of by the county.  We have three international students from the local Christian high school.  It's a bit hard to say with certainty, but I probably wouldn't be doing at least some of that, maybe most of it, if I were an elder.

Personally, I'm persuaded that the CRC would have eventually opened the offices of elder/minister without it having to be "forced open," at the great cost of disunity and division.  In other words, I believe the CRC erred when it opened those offices, even though I think it was theologically correct (and who knows, I could be wrong on the theology).  Again, I would appeal to the "logic" of Acts 15, but as well to 1 Cor 13 (we can be right, yet nothing but a loud noise).

Final point: I think those who favor women in office could have, and still can where the classis doesn't seat women, can find ways to "chip away" at those restrictions and become more involved, even at a classis level.  I would also suggest that when women -- or men -- express their disagreements as to the prohibitions with words like "discrimination" and "bigotry" -- or analogize to racism -- they prove their theological opposition's point, at least in the mind of those who have concluded that opening those offices would be the result of worldly thinking.  Talking about wanting to serve will create much more unity and opportunity than talking about rights, discrimination, or "this is like racism."

If you like, this is my "road map."  Might not be what you wanted (too slow), but I find it Scriptural.

Hi Doug -- Yes, absolutely there are many ways to serve God and the church without holding an office. My concerns are global. One organization in my life where I can "act locally" is the CRC. I fully believe that if we model the culture we would like to see in the world, if we are a light to the world, we can have a positive influence regarding the mistreatment of women here and around the globe. 

Yes, I understand that in the past there were people who in good faith, using a strong understanding of Scripture, defended the practice of owning slaves. 

I also really do understand that having all women's voices be the same would not be any better than having all the men's voices be the same. I am someone who determined early on that because it was highly unlikely I would ever have an opportunity to serve the CRC as an officer, I could be a voice for other women without it being about me. I could put a magnifying glass on how I "feel" because I know I am not alone. If I can help be a voice of those who know they will be more effective by keeping quiet on such matters, then I have served in the role I feel called.

Fact: there is a good analogy to racism when it comes to the perception of women in our denomination. 

Many of those who cared deeply have left the denomination for greener pastures, but when I see a slate of speakers like this http://www2.crcna.org/pages/summit_speakers.cfm in what is apparently a conference for both men and women, I feel like there is still a need in our church for someone like me to put a magnifying glass on it and suggest that we can do better as a light to the world. When we have a quota for minorities in leadership and not for women (I do not prefer quotas, please understand), but our statistics show we have a bigger issue incorporating women into our leadership, then it is good for us to have some voices that point this out, right?  Thanks.  --dawn

Participant

It seems to me that this debate always orbits the wrong sun.

Let's remember our church polity folks. The discussion should not be primarily about women, but about the nature and authority of church office. In our polity and ecclesiology, there is no man in authority over any other man either. We practice an intentional mutual submission at both the council and classis level. It's built in, and though some mega-church enthusiasts would prefer a CEO model for pastors, such a model is definitely out of sync with our ecclesiology and our church order.

Do not all elders submit to each other? Don't all pastors submit to their elders? Does not everyone in classis submit to the decisions of classis? Where is there a man (as a man, or as an individual) exercising authority over another man? It doesn't happen. In fact does our church order not say that no officer bearer shall lord it over another?

I'd like to suggest that much of the discussion on women's roles in the Bible simply don't apply to the discussion of how women may or may not serve in church office in the CRC. I'd like to suggest that both complementarians and egalitarians can be theologically comfortable with women serving as elders or pastors.

I appreciate your perspective Richard, and I have certainly heard this many times over the years. Many people speak from a place where they have never experienced any sort of institutional lock-out because of their gender. I do not know if that is the case for yor or not, but I wonder what you think about systematically locking out a group of people because of basic demographic information about how God made them? Do you favor that in general?  --dawn

Participant

Dawn, I grew up in the midst of this theological battle. I learned to appreciate the Biblical arguments from both sides, and also came to understand that most of the egalitarians weren't arguing about 'justice' for women, and most of the complementarians weren't arguing about the inherent inferiority of women. Both sides were mostly arguing about Biblical fideltiy re what the Bible teaches about women as that comes to bear on the offices of the church (though most often, the discussion on the nature of office was noticeably absent).

Those who argue that women are inherently inferior, are hopelessly confused, IMHO. But not all who conclude that the Bible excludes women from office are, and most I read suggest they aren't. The question is really what does the Bible teach.

We don't want to make the Bible conform to our sense of justice, but we want our sense of justice conform to the Scriptures. Right? Now a mismatch in our sense of justice and the Scriptures can make us go and look again, but what we want in the end is for Scripture to inform our sense of justice and not the other way around. For those who firmly believe that the Bible excludes women from church office, their sense of justice asserts (and I have heard this) that, if the Bible is right about this, therefore it is just. I agree with the the conclusion, just not the premise.

I'll give one more reason that say an appeal to justice won't work. In our culture, the concept of justice is embedded in the concept of win/loose. If one 'side' wins, another side looses. Now for criminal cases, this isn't all bad, and often our adversarial justice system tends to work (more or less). But an adversarial justice system is doomed in the Church, because by design it devides, one group of people who are fully devoted to following Jesus from another group that is just as devoted, but comes down on the other side of an issue. That's wrong.

Biblical justice is the establishment, or re-establisment of shalom - that state of being where everything is as it should be. The brother/sister I disagree with isn't my enemy, but my brother/sister first. We look together for a way to live together, to find as much shalom together as we can. This might seem to compromise on absolutes, but isn't that what Paul did re eating meat sacrificed to idols?

Maybe you know a little about what happened here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a journey for us. By one vote churches were allowed to ordain women as elders & pastors. It took quite some time for women elders or pastors to be seated as delegates. Eventually it happened, and it's basically a non-issue at classis now. But I still remember when it was a hot issue that used up way to much time at classis.

I have my opinion about how that changed, but I need to stop here for now. I've got other things to do today.

I definitely agree that there has been an argument about what the Bible teaches on this matter. Once upon a time there was an argument about head coverings for women, the owning of slaves, and all manner of other things. I am not interested in arguing the point. Many theologians and Biblical scholars have done this already. Now the question for me is how we are going to act. What we are doing today with each classis voting is one thing that makes our classis not just a problem today but a broken part of our culture. So, my statement is that since no one has suggested a way to fix classis as it stands and I see no way to do so, all efforts that we put in to try to make this particular structure more relevant would better serve the church by going toward something that lacks this significant flaw.

I have an eye for organizational structures that work, having spent my career to date in change management. There might be a better organizational culture visionary than I who can see how we can move from our current state to one of thriving while retaining classis, but I honestly do not see it. I really am not suggesting that we rehash the "women's issue" as a denomination. In fact, I think the opposite -- that we should not visit it again as a denomination. In order to do that, it appears to me that we must get rid of classis. Really. Otherwise we will continue to have people like me who are compelled to feel part of a country club that does not permit black people. I hope you can understand how that tugs at my conscience. If others are fine with our church not permitting black people to be seated at some of our denominational meetings (no black females are permitted, for example), then that is for them to decide. My comments here are not to change minds on this subject but to show why I think that we should stop putting our efforts into classis. The culture of classis is fatally ill, in my opinion.

--dawn

Participant

Dawn, the problem isn't classis itself, and your last sentence underscores why it isn't. The problem isn't classis, but the culture of the people in it - well, at least in your classis. I invite you to come to a meeting of classis Pacific North West sometime. Sit next to Eleanor Rietkerk, Ladan Jennings, or Ashley VanDragt, all ordained pastors, or next to one of the women delegated as elders (there aren't often many of them, but they are welcome).

Changing the structure rarely changes the culture; the same stagnant water can be poured into a vessel of any shape. 25+ years of changing structure in the denominational offices should prove that point. What needs to change is our denominational culture on this issue - at least in the classis you are part of (and probably a few more). It needs to change in at least two ways.

1) In a broader sense, we must stop compromising with the cry-baby, foot-stompers who threaten to leave or walk out should we decide "X." I say, let 'em go. If not, let's just admit that we prefer to be held hostage by cry-babies and foot-stompers. Besides, if their commitment to us, is that shallow and fragile, they are already admitting that their primary loyalties lie more with themselves than with the covenant we have together as this part of the Body of Christ to which they claim to belong. Let's make the ability to 'play well with others' a condition of office. If you can't compromise over disputable matters, you don't belong. That may sound a bit harsh, but it's a whole lot better than letting a bunch of loud mouth, finger-waggers, who claim some sort of right to have their way, take over the decision making process. When we let it happen it's called 'enabling,' it's codependence. It's both terribly sad and pathetically silly.

2) We also need to change our culture on the need to compromise on this issue. Synod has already decided that this issue, has no clear Biblical solution; that one can, using the same exegetical tools and principles, come to different opinions about it. And if Synod didn't say it, decades of debate, and several bouts of 'ping pong' decision making from one Synod to the next should prove the point by itself. So, let's compromise. And I mean both "sides." Stop the name-calling, the caricatures, the fear, the slippery-slope arguments, the whining, the victim mentality, and the all that posturing nonsense. That's not the Bride of Christ, as I have come to know and love her. C'mon, grace folks, grace. Remember that word? Remember what it means? It takes grace to change stagnant water into wine, and grace always, always defeats gracelessness, whatever it's shape or smell (though it often takes time).

In short, let's all be adults, realize we have honest differences on this issue, and learn to live and work together with mutual love and respect. If we can't do that, we should just remove 1 Corinthians from our Bibles and realize we don't belong in the Church!

Community Builder

Respectfully Dawn, you acknowledge the argument (re women in certain offices) but you have neither time nor respect for those whose conclusions on the question differ from your own.  What you write denigrates those who hold that different position by equating their positions with positions on other questions that none of them would have.

The source of this irreconcilability is not that the "culture of classis is fatally ill" but that some, including you, wish to stay within the denomination (a structure that includes classis) but yet insist that it must change as you dictate to fit with your conclusions.

Again, respectfully, I think it would be better for the church (the 'holy catholic or universal' one) if you decided to to associate with an church institution tradition other than that of the CRCNA.  Paul and Barnabas separated over a difference.  It may be that you and the CRCNA should as well.

Actually, I don't understand how that (classes who do not seat women) "tugs at your conscience."  I suspect I understand how disagreeable that is for you, but not how it "tugs at your conscience."  I think you tend to characterize things so that you will always look good and reasonable and those on the other side bad and unreasonable.  I don't think you have any concern or inclination to understand or empathize with the position of others on this question.

Participant

Doug, I don't find your 'push back' much more helpful, than Dawn's statements. I'm not letting Dawn get away with her mischaracterizations, and I don't see a reason to let you do so.

When you suggest that Dawn leave the CRC, or that she (or the women in office 'side') is the only one dictating an agenda on this, you show a dearth of the same gracious understanding that you challenge Dawn to exhibit.

Further, if you don't understand how one's conscience might be tugged, when women are denied a seat at a classis meeting, then you really don't understand those who disagree with you either. It certainly tugs at my conscience, because I believe the Bible not only allows women to serve as pastors and deacons, but requires that women be allowed to serve in these roles. When a group decides not to follow what I believe the Bible says, it tugs at my conscience, in the sense that it's wrong and I should do something about it, but often I don't know what to do that will have a positive effect.

I have certainly heard (and believe!) those opposed to opening the offices of pastor and elder to women say, that to seat them would not only tug at, but violate their consciences. I do believe them, even if I think they are being overly sensitive about a matter that has proved most difficult to resolve.

Community Builder

Richard: I re-read my post and don't find either mischaracterizations or a dearth of gracious understanding.  Certainly, I know I wrote nothing in anger or with the intent to be less than respectful.  Your own post says, and I quote,

"we must stop compromising with the cry-baby, foot-stompers who threaten
to leave or walk out should we decide "X." I say, let 'em go. If not, let's just admit
that we prefer to be held hostage by cry-babies and foot-stompers. Besides,
if their commitment to us, is that shallow and fragile, they are already admitting
that their primary loyalties lie more with themselves than with the covenant we
have together as this part of the Body of Christ to which they claim to belong."

The differences between my post and yours are two: (1) I use much less name-calling, (2) I talk directly to the person who isn't going to like what I say instead of say things about not-specifically-named others.

I meant "respectfully" when I said that.  Still, there's a time to call a spade a spade.  In your post, you bemoaned a lack of willingness to submit.  I'm being specific about applying that admonition, not with name-calling words or words that are hyperbolic or gratuitously sharp, but still directly.

And perhaps we have a different definition for "conscience."  When one decides he/she is aggrieved, repeatedly asks others how they would feel if, like he/she, they were the analogical object of racism, one is feeling victimized but not a tug of conscience.  He/she is, after all, not the perpetrator of the analogical racism but the victim of it.  And just sometimes, actually often, when we are convinced we are the victim, we think we have a special license -- because of the victim status -- to interact with others in ways we ourselves would deem unacceptable.

The church is simply not benefitted, but harmed, by repeated accusations of analogical racism (among other analogies, e.g., slave-keeping) against those who sincerely hold the position that Scripture does not allow for women to hold certain offices.  Keep in mind, my view is that the church should allow women to hold those offices.  Still, I respect, and insist on respect for, those who disagree out of Scripture based motivation. Our church (denomination) made a decision about this  and some classes are following that decision, respectfully, but then are called analogical racists, perhaps "cry-babies" and "foot-stompers" as well (not to mention members of a culture resembling "stagnant water").  At some point, it's time to object to the characterizations, describe these (mis)characterizations as what they are, and suggest a biblically consistent resolution (separating) if some just can't live with that (or at least stop with the characterizations).  I thought it was that time, understanding and respecting your right to disagree.  And Dawn's right too.

Participant

I'm withdrawing from this discussion.

My main reason for withdrawing is that I'm on sabbatical and engaging in such discussions is not a part of my goals for this season.

I first want to acknowledge that I am very aware that there are people who have their conscience torn by permitting women to be ushers in their churches, or, more commonly, by permitting women to be church officers. I get that. I understand how deeply matters of conscience hurt individuals. There was an entire civil war in the US that included both pragmatists and those whosw consciences were torn on both sides.

This does not mean that there is no right or wrong, but that in the shades of gray there are actual human beings who can be personally harmed when what they are planted in a place where what they believe and how they feel compelled to act are counter to each other. I do not think anyone really thinks that we should act in a way that counters our beliefs. That is what I am asked to do as a member of the CRC, feeling wrenched by the fact that I am willing to be a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times. This is an analogy to make clear to others what my beliefs are, not in order to point fingers at anyone else. If someone else does not have beliefs that contradict their actions, that is good for them. I do, and it is a problem for me, as I would hope it would be for anyone living in a way that is counter to their beliefs.

I care enough about the CRC to help "us" change rather than just sit and accept this disconnect quietly. Many others in the CRC felt strongly enough to leave the CRC over the past 20 years, whether for a denomination like the PCUSA or one like the URC.

So, I definitely understand that we can have people in the world who are not living in accord with their beliefs when they are drinking from the same drinking fountain as someone unlike them; others who are not living in accord with their beliefs when they are in a church with women elders; others when they are compelled to be a member of a classis that blocks women, etc.

How then should we live? This is where classis comes in. There are no doubt many, many good things that come from classis. The culture of classis, given that few want synod to discuss "the women's issue" again, is flawed in a way that I see no way to fix.

One suggestion (only one, there are other possibilities, I'm sure) which is part of a much bigger design from me, is that we raise up new structures for different "brands" (choosing non-marketing terms, so just roll with me on that if you could) and that these brands have their own cultures. If your church opts for "Classic CRC" then you continue to work through classis, else you work with other churches in your stream/brand/franchise/whatever-we-call-it. If there is a carrot (including materials, common goals, excitement, networking, education, etc), not stick, approach, then eventually more churches will opt to choose their brand, some of which block women as part of their brand, some of which do not. It would take too many words for me to lay this out further and there is no call for me to do so. These brands could span denominations, perhaps including churches from any denomination in the WCRC, for example.

I thought through this matter when it really seemed clear to me that I was part of a dying denomination. I would like to help us. With my glasses on, it appears that classis is one of the issues that we need to address to get the cultural changes we need to start to thrive again. I really do think it is possible, but it definitely will not be easy.  Cheers!

Participant

Are we seriously giving this much space to silencing hermeneutical opponents by eliminating denominational structure?

Community Builder

I think it is helpful in all of this to examine claims of "conscience violation."  When issues like this are raised, folks (generally on both extremes of perspective) are quick to claim their "conscience is violated."  Certainly, one's conscience can be violated, but that is when one does something one knows one shoudn't do.  It does NOT happened, and cannot be legitimately claimed, when one is simply in opposition to someone else doing something or taking some position, which is often the basis for the claim in the women-in-office discussion.

So if you do something to me that you shouldn't (e.g., don't repay a loan I gave you, or hit me for no reason), I can have a number of responses but not (at least with credibility) that you violated my conscience.

In the CRC, we've gotten the habit of claiming conscience violations for doctrinal disagreements because it works a bit like the rook card in the game of Rook.  Trumps everything and everyone tends to step back because of your sacred invocation of right.  And the more we get that response, the more we claim it.

If don't believe women should be pastors, but I go to a CRC church in a distant city and they have a woman pastor (I didn't know ahead of time of course), I really can't claim that being exposed to that woman violated by conscience.  Or if I can claim it, it is because I refused to walk out when I thought I was required to and could have but didn't.  She didn't violate my conscience, nor did the council who put her in the pulpit.

Applied to any who may claim conscience violations when women attend their classis meetings: well, that your problem; she doesn't violate your conscience, only you can.

Applied to any who may claim that their conscience is violated when their council doesn't allow women as elders in their church: what are you talking about; you're simply disagreeing with someone else making a decision that they, not you, made; how can that violate your conscience?

Getting to the core of the issue (in discussing it at least) will mean, then, dropping most of these "violations of conscience" claims -- getting rid of the rook and trump color tactics -- and talking more directly about what we have concluded what we have concluded.

Well, if this were a matter of disagreements on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, then I would not understand someone having a conscience issue. No one has to believe me, and I do not know how others feel, but I would not be willing to be a member of a country club that does not permit black people to have tee times. I can imagine that would be very close to identical to how I am stressed, torn by being a member of a CRC in a classis that does not seat women. I am rather appalled that I would be willing to do this. What I know to be right (recognizing that others think they know the opposite) is in opposition to how I am living. If you do not perfer the term "conscience" then feel free to give it another name. The fact is that I know it is wrong for me to be a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times and yet that is what i am doing, from my own perspective. 

Yes, because we have no means to solve this problem that I can see through our existing classes, it seems to me that classis has a fatal flaw. I say "fatal" because I can see no way to turn our denomination into one that is thriving without removing this problem. Maybe others have great plans for that, but I haven't seen them.  --dawn

Community Builder

Dawn: You say, "I do not think anyone really thinks that we should act in a way that counters our beliefs."

Assuming you are not kidding, I and most other people in the world conform to things we disagree with all of our lives.  Children sincerely believe they should be allowed to do this or that, or allowed not to do this or that, but their parents insist otherwise.  Growing up as adults doesn't change that.  Some adults sincerely believe they should keep their money instead of giving it to the government (for all kinds of reasons), or that they should be allowed to ride their motorcycle without a helmet, or talk in their cell phone while driving, etc etc etc etc etc.  I even conform to what my wife says, sometimes, and she sometimes to what I say, in each case including about things counter to our own beliefs.

Could be that I'm a lawyer, but I just see acting in conformity to be forced upon all of us everyday.  Without that, we don't even have a political society, let alone a church, or even a family.

So yes, I do think we should -- often -- act in ways that counters our beliefs. 

You say, "That is what I am asked to do as a member of the CRC, feeling wrenched by the fact that I am willing to be a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times."  Hey, I feel wrench by big things and and little things, including that I can't speak my mind respectully on this forum without being censored.  And yet I conform.

Your solution, really, to your feeling wrenched, is to not be "willing to be a member...".  I can't stand what certain political parties advocate for, and so I'm not a member.  Indeed, I'm not a member of any political party.

But you want more.  You want to keep the CRC banging on the drum.  Well, not argue about the women-in-office question anymore (you've said you don't want to argue that anymore), but you do want to, as Michael Bentley suggests, "silenc[e] hermeneutical opponents by eliminating denominational structure?"

Again, I actually agree with your position that women should be allowed to be pastors and elders.  What I disagree with is that the decision the denomination made should be continually pounded on.  At some point, we need to agree to disagree, and getting rid of classis as a denominational structure is not that.  Nor is characterizing those who disagree with your position as being analogical racists and slave keepers.  At some point, we need to submit to the decisions made or decide we want out.

You were right, I think, when you observed that the CRC is a "dying denomination."  I think it is that in no small part because too many simply want things their way and refuse to see themselves as ever having to "act in a way that counters their beliefs."

You are correct. I will rephrase it as "I do not think that anyone thinks that a person should be willing to sin without trying to change that behavior." That is what I am doing. There are reasons that I will be staying CRC at this point, so the way to align my behavior so that I am not sinning, according to what I believe Scripture tells me, is to change the organization. I realize there are others more diligent in doing this, but by not keeping silent on this matter, I am making a small step.

You are wrong, however, when you suggest that I "want to keep the CRC banging on the drum." In fact it is in order that we not have to do this that I propose doing away with classis, although not in one fell swoop.

Also, I do not characterize any other person as a racist. If I were to be willing to be a member of an organization that did not permit blacks to be members, then I would consider my behavior to be racist. I am curious -- would you consider it sinful behavior for yourself to be a willing member of a country club that did not permit tee times for black people because they were black? Would you consider such a membership? Why or why not?  --dawn

Community Builder

Dawn: I'll bite.  Your question to me is:  "I am curious -- would you consider it sinful behavior for yourself to be a willing member of a country club that did not permit tee times for black people because they were black? Would you consider such a membership? Why or why not?"

My answer: I would choose not to be a member of that country club.  I'm not sure I would conclude it to be a sin for me to stay a member (that analysis could get complex), but I would definitely choose to either not become a member or to terminate my membership. Why?  I just wouldn't want to be a member of an organization which irrationally discriminated within its membership. I'd find another country club if I liked golf that much (which I don't, but ...).  I'd even give up golf if there was no alternative golf course.  It's not that discrimination is necessarily a bad thing (we discriminate, e.g., against those who murder by not allowing them to run free, as well as against persons who want a particular job but are not qualified to do the job, etc etc etc), but this discrimination is both irrational and unfair.  I could write quite a bit to support that analysis.

Now, having answered your question, I would ask, so?  In my view, if someone analogizes between a country club prohibiting blacks from tee time and a church that decide to literally mimic the apostle Paul's decision to "not permit women to teach or have authority over men," one is making an analogy that simply does not work as a meaningful/useful analogy (as I said in my very first post).

So I would like to hear your explanation as to how this analogy does work, if you think it does, and how.  You say "I do not characterize any other person as a racist."  I honestly don't understand.  You have repeatedly said not allowing women in certain offices is like racism.  Saying that is, literally, characterizing those who don't allow women in certain offices as acting from the same evil motivations.  OK, sure, you didn't call them racists (nor did I say you did, note that I said you said they were "analogical racists"), but the distinction is slight at best, and your repeated use of the analogy to racism, slave-keeping and such either makes a point or it doesn't.  And I'm assuming you are making a point, so what exactly is the point?  (I genuinely want to know). I honestly cannot discern the point.

Ah, I think I found the question you were pointing me to. Thanks for the response.

OK, you are asking me what my point is. My analogy is not about the mind of other people, it is a magnifying glass on how I interpret behaviors so that others can see why I am so torn. Given that our church deems my interpretation of Scripture to be acceptable, now I have to figure out how to function practically in a way that doesn't cause me to be a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times. This should help you understand why I cannot simply let the matter rest for all eternity. I obviously want my country club to open its doors to black people. 

By the way, I know of no churches around here who take "not permit women to teach or have authority over men" literally. All those I know about have women Sunday School teachers. Most have had women even teaching adult ed, I suspect. So, I'm not sure how that comes into play in this case. We are talking about classis deciding not to seat women. This is not something discussed in any literal way in Scripture at all to my knowledge, although maybe if we give the women hats we would permit them to be seated?  smiles  --dawn

Community Builder

Dawn: OK, this is helpful to me understanding you.  I'll agree that you ultimately have to decide for yourself how to "interpret behaviors of others," and if you personally equate the behavior of those in the CRC who take a view of women-in-office opposite of your own as equivalent to the racist country club who won't let black people play golf, then I guess you will feel as you do.

My response -- but already somewhat made -- is this: while you may choose to feel that way, the two scenarios are in fact, objectively viewed, not analogous.  And if they are not analogous (even though you might feel as you do), then getting rid of classes as an authority structure would be something we would do only to alleviate your feeling of being back-seater.  I'm not trying minimize your feelings, but suggest that ultimately, your feelings aren't necessarily a first priority, even if you do.

As to churches taking Paul literally, I'd caution about superficially analyzing them. Some churches do take Paul quite literally, even though they allow women to teach male children (as opposed to male adults).  Again, I have my own interpretation for 1 Tim 2, which is that Paul was actually encouraging women (in a new testament time) to "learn" before taking on "teaching" or "having authority," and further suggesting by subsequent analogy that doing otherwise may cause them to make the same mistake Eve did, whose decision and act, before learning, brought ruin to herself, her husband, and all of humanity.

Still, I respect other interpretations because they are fair interpretations, certainly not outside our agreed way of reading Scripture.  And that's the difference between taking a no-women-in-office-elder decision and denying black people the right to play golf.  The former results from a fair interpretation of Scripture, the latter from a selfish inclination to exert arbitrary power and control.  Still, if the former makes you feel just like the black person denied golf, who am I or anyone else to say you can't or don't feel that way.  I might explicate the distinction (as I have done) in order to encourage you not to feel that way, but I don't control your feelings, nor those of others who may feel as you do.

I fully understand that there were once very fair understandings of Scripture where those holding them thought that owning slaves was Biblical. I fully understand that there are also "fair interpretations" that prompt women to cover their heads. Similarly, there are fair interpretations that people use to lock women out of church offices. I fully understand that honest, God-fearing, Bible-believing, ... Christians can disagree on these matters.

An analogy is a model. "All models are flawed, but some are useful." [My recollection is that I quoted this from George Box in a ppt about a decade ago, but I'm not googling it now so the author mght be someone else]

The analogy of locking out blacks from tee times at a country club to locking out women from sitting and voting at classis meetings is a fair analogy. These are not identical scenarios, they are simply analogous. This is a useful analogy, not for condemning those who exclude women but for helping those who might not otherwise understand why those who are pro-women-in-office suffer from issues of conscience just as some who are against it do.

Analogies are simply models, not the real thing. As I once wrote in a data modeling blog entry "models are anorexic versions of the real thing." Analogies are models intended to illuminate some point, not all points. I hope that helps clarify.

Community Builder

Respectfully, Dawn, and again I mean that, the way you use use of analogies (at least on this subject) seems to me to be way of saying something quite nasty to someone but yet having deniability about having said that.

For example, I could suggest that you are like Hitler and Pol Pot in wanting to have every thing your way and not being willing to ever compromise until you get exactly what you want.  There would actually be something true about that analogy (you do want to have your position prevail as to women-in-office in the CRC and you aren't willing to compromise on that), but the analogy would be absolutely unfair and irresponsible (and I'm not making that analogy, BTW), because the message others would hear from my using that analogy would be that you are like Hitler and Pol Pot.

In the same way, when you repeatedly liken those who oppose women-in-office in the CRC, you repeatedly, in their minds (or, perhaps more appropriately "in their feelings"), call them racists.  Frankly, I'm not sure whether you are intending to to that or not (I can't know your intentions), but I can assure you that is the message that is received by most if not all of those whose conclusions on women-in-office in the CRC are different from yours. (I'm not of that position and that's why I hear).  In other words, your repeating the racist analogy is received as repeated pokings with a very, very sharp stick, and will most likely be met, eventually, with pokings back with a very, very sharp stick.

You say, "The analogy of locking out blacks from tee times at a country club to locking out women from sitting and voting at classis meetings is a fair analogy."  Perhaps, but only if one considers the point of the analogy to be your way of describing your feelings.  But if the point of the analogy is to describe those who oppose women-in-office in the CRC, that analogy is clearly, clearly, unfair -- it amounts to taunting, accusatory name-calling.

John Zystra is quite correct when he asks whether you are willing to apply your racism analogy to our Lord for choosing twelve MALE disciples.  As ill-informed and backward as you may believe those who opposed women-in-office are, they are quite literally and precisely following Christ's example here.  Moreover, they specifically point to that example, not to mention the words and actions of the apostle Paul in support of their position.  And yes, if there are traditions that hold  to the practice of women wearing hats or not braiding hair (or not using electricity or combustion engines and living simple agrarian lives), I would respect them, which would mean, among other things, that I would refrain from repeatedly equating their thinking with racism.

And speaking of slavery (which is not equal to racism, BTW), God himself allowed the OT Israelites to sell themselves in bondage to others to pay debts.  Yet, I'll refrain from accusing him, by analogy, of racism.

Well, if intent is helpful, I can assure you that my intent is to help our church move forward. I have no intent whatsoever in trying to harm any individual. I make an analogy to show how I think of this topic, not to explain anyone else's thought process on this topic. If someone else does not feel that by excluded women they are doing anything analogous to excluding black people, then they would surely not feel the strong need that I have to rectify the situation. I am not their judge, nor am I intending to be. I have never suggested that John or anyone else is like anyone bad. I do not know his heart. I am not pointing a finger at him at all. I am pointing a finger at myself. I am living in a way that does not align with what I think is right. I am doing that by being a member of the CRC. Most of those tortured by this have left, I suspect. I do not want to leave, but by staying I have this conflict. 

So, there is nothing in me that would compare any individual to anyone bad, for example. Yes, you are correct that the analogy is for a particular purpose. I can see that some people, such as John Zylstra, might take away something from the analogy that I am not intending. I would advise such people to listen more carefully. I am not talking about them at all. I am talking about what I am currently doing to be complicit in the wrongs committed against women, from my perspective. I am asking that we, together, help the church so that people like both John and me can function with in it. I have even worked through some possibilities on how this could be accomplished, so I suspect it is possible. I feel in my gut that it will not happen by directing new efforts into raising up the work of our classis to be greater than it the minimal that it needs to be at this point in time. 

I can see that you understand why there were Christians in the past who used Scripture to justify owning slaves. I do not think I have referred to that as racism but as "owning slaves" where I will call separate drinking fountains and back of the bus behavior racism. Of course we had brothers and sisters in Christ who called this "separateness" and justified why this was a good thing for two cultures to live side by side and not intermix. There are many things we have declared in the name of Scripture, using Bible passages that even seem very relevant. I am not arguing any of that at this point. I am asking "how, then, shall we live?" given our differences.

--dawn

Community Builder

Your above amounts to this:

I am not accusing anyone else of being like a racist for opposing women-in-office.  However, if I remain a member of a church that tolerates opposition to women-in-office, then I am like a racist as long as I am unsuccessful in stamping out this toleration.  But, understand I'm not saying those who oppose women-in-office are like racists, just myself for failing to eliminate these racist-like tolerations.

There is a point where I have to say, "ah come on."

As to the related point, I'd really like to hear your perspective as to Jesus' selection of twelve MALE disciples and Paul's decision to not let women teach or have authority over women.  Given what I've heard from you on this discussion, I would think you would oppose Jesus and Paul in the decisions they made.  I'm sure you don't, but would genuinely like to hear your explanation.

I appreciate the reflections re women attending classical meetings.  I have a few thojughts on this but not sure I can get it out this time.  Am working on it and might go through Paul to get it in the comment section.  Al Hoksbergen

There are two things I want to point out.

First, Paul speaks in the article about the possibility of Synod forcing classes to seat women delegates.  He rejects that as a viable plan.  I concur, because it would not force classes to seat women.  It would force them to leave the CRCNA - and they would.  In effect, it puts them in the position of doing what they believe they may not do or leaving, and the fact that they have maintained the position they hold over 20 years of argument and invective is a pretty clear indicator of which option they'd take.

Second, at one point in the discussion, Dawn explicitly refers to those who do not believe they are permitted by Scripture to seat women delegates at classis or ordain women into one or more of the offices of the church as "anti-women".  This sentiment is further implied in equating that belief to racism, slavery, etc., etc.  This sentiment is, at least in part, an expression of the hurt Dawn evidently feels in regards to this matter - a very understandable pain.  But it is also not true, and the fact of its falsity creates a barrier between Dawn and the people she wishes to persuade.

Permit me to explain.  Besides the fact that many of those who believe the Bible does not allow them to see women as elders or ministers are themselves women, the vast majority of the men who hold such a view are not in the least misogynist.  They love their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters; they work with women in various contexts both within and outside of the church; they are polite, respectful, protective, and compassionate.  They are not anti- anybody, nor do they believe women should remain barefoot and pregnant.  Characterizing them as such simply says to them that they are not understood.  When they explain the biblical reasons for their belief, and those reasons are swept away amid renewed accusations of misogyny, they eventually come to believe communication is impossible.  Once this happens, the walls go up, communication is ended, persuasion is impossible.

There are times when I'm willing to have those walls go up, when I'm not really interested in persuading so much as venting.  That's fine, and there's a place for it.  I may be nearing 50, but there's still a bit of 7th grader in me that enjoys a good, clean, fun exchange of witty insults and venting barbs.  No harm, no foul.

But if your desire is to persuade and change, then I think, Dawn, you would do well to pay more careful attention to what Doug has been saying here.

You are right to call me out if I used the short-hand "anti-women" as a lazy way to write "anti-women-in-office." I do not recall having done so, so it was not done in a Rush Limbaugh fashion (this time ;-)  I have had a few people suggest that "wico" sounds too much like wicca or wiccan so that it "feels wrong" to some for that reason. At the very least, it is not a lovely-sounding acronym. While trying to avoid it, it appears I err'd on the other side. "Anit-women" is short-hand and I understand how it incites, just as "pro-life" does, for example, when we do not realize that most people are pro-life. Yes, most people are pro-women too. My apologies for the short-hand.

Thank you for the instruction regarding how I should pay more attention to Doug's forms of argumentation. I re-read his responses. Thanks also for appreciating good, clean, fun exchanges of witty barbs.  --dawn

Let me try this again.  Apparently the last note I sent worked so here we go.

I do not think classes are irreparably broken.  It is true that a lot of work is required to get classis back to what the Church Order stipulates.  I think it can be done provided major assemblies stop making decisions they should not make.      

We should begin with Church Order Article 27 that states that the authority of church councils is original while that of the major assemblies is delegated.  This is foundational to our church polity.  Article 34 is about delegation to the assemblies.  It says, "Major assemblies are composed of officebearers who are delegated by their constituent minor assemblies."  

With this in mind, we recognize that a church council exists around the clock, even when the council is not in session.  This is different from the major assemblies.  Major assemblies only exist during the time they are in session.  When a classis adjourns, that particular classis no longer exists.  The same is true regarding a synodical gathering.  When the Synod of 2012 adjourns, that particular synod no longer exists.  While the Board of Trustees acts in the place of synod, its decisions are subject to the approval of a later synod. 

Article 28 is about matters that are legally before each of the assemblies.  This article limits the actions of the major assemblies to such matters as cannot be dealt with on the local level.  

It is questionable whether a major assembly has the authority to determine whom it will seat in its assembly   The council has the responsibility to make that decision, not the major assemblies.  When councils delegate their officebearers to be their representatives at a major assembly, that major assembly does not have the authority to decide whether it  will seat certain delegates.  When major assemblie receive credentials, its only task is to make sure that the delegates are in good standing in the local church, and are in fact officebearers there.  When synod decided some years ago that only males could serve in the offices of the church, it is questionable whether it had the right to make such a decision.   The church order used prior to that questionable decision stipulated only that members in good standing should be considered to be officebearers.  Sexual status, social status, or racial issues were not relevant.  Only the Bible and our creeds which interpret the basic tenents of our faith serve as our guide.  When a synod or classis decides to exclude certain persons sent by local churches that follow Scripture and our three forms of unity, that major assembly has overstepped its boundaries. 

So, may a classis or synod seat female delegate?.  Of course they may, provided they are in good standing in their local congregations.   It is time for us to move away from allowing major assemblies to interfer with matters that belong rightly to the council.  Al Hoksbergen

Community Builder

Al: I think you make a good point and I don't necessarily disagree with your logic.  On the other hand, I think it is quite correct to say that any body (we're talking church bodies here but could be otherwise) ultimately makes the rules it makes, and construes its rules as it construes its rules, unless that body is under a recognized jurisdiction of a higher body which can overrule it.  This principle is rather firmly embedded in both the seemingly eternal Roberts Rules of Order, but also in a sort of logical common sense, not to mention the CRCNA Church Order.

Again, I think your logic is good, but ultimately, each classis has the authority (not to mention the power) to accept or reject your logic.  This doesn't mean you have to stop making your argument, but it does mean, as a practical matter, that the only way classes who decide not to seat women (contrary to your argument) will stop that is if Synod overrules their decision that they may refuse to seat women.

This is sort of like the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.  I can (and do) argue that it doesn't mean (isn't as expansive as) what the Supreme Court has said it means in recent decades, but I will acknowledge that, as a legal matter, it does say what the Supreme Court says it means, my opinion notwithstanding.  Also, if the Ninth Circuit makes a decision, that decision is law in Oregon (my state -- in the Ninth Circuit), even if I say that's inconsistent with what the US Supreme Court has said, unless and until the US Supreme Court actually overrules that Ninth Circuit decision.

Which means, if one is to accept your argument, that the only way your argument gets wings is if it persuade Synod to overrule the decision of those Classes who don't seat women.  And it can do that.  Were Synod to consider overruling Classes who refused to seat women, I would oppose it, despite the fact that I believe Scripture, fairly read, does not require the church to prohibit women from holding the offices of minister and elder.  Acts 15 is instructive to me in this regard.  The "compromise decision" the church leaders came to at that meeting did not, strictly speaking, match what was "theologically correct."  The unity of the body was considered a greater good than theological correctness about particular (and smaller) matters.

I seem to be reading these in the wrong order, so I just caught this one. First of all, the very first pastor who I can remember has the name Al Hoksbergen. If that is you, please know that you made an impression on a 5 year old in Ann Arbor. I considered Rev. Hoksbergen to be very smart and very important. 

You make a good point regarding classis. This might be a better tactical approach to address my concerns. With initiatives such as Paul's excellent blog on Classis here, I am "feeling" that we are putting an emphasis on a structure that needs to take on less significance, not more. I do think it is irreparably broken so that we need to grow up other structures at a regional level, but even without going that far, I can see that at the very least if we enforce what is already there -- that classis is not an entity that exists when it is not meeting, for example -- that we will be better off.

My concern is not because I feel personally threatenned regarding all-male classes other than feeling torn because I am willing to play in such a sandbox. I am concerned because I do not see that we can thrive with the directions we are taking. Our seeming newfound emphasis on classis as if it were the regional hub of activity for churches is one of these trends. I am all for regional activity. I really do not want more emphasis put on a group that can vote not to permit black people to be seated at its meetings. I am upset with myself for my willingness to be a part of such an entity, but given that I apparently am willing, I am at least not willing to do so without speaking up. Maybe I simply do not have the personality type of the people who willingly sat in the back of the bus. 

Thanks for your comments.  --dawn

When you write that any body "ultimately makes the rules it makes" I think you also recognize that not only can rules change but the way in which rules and entities are handled also changes. If a company made a rule about a typewriter, for example, they might say that it applies also to a computer, but they could also decide that the advent of the computer is a way to get rid of the rule over time as typewriters went away.

So, synod has ruled on classes. I don't want them to revisit it any more than anyone else does. Those were painful times in the life of our denomination. Unfortunately, we were left with a broken structure that has contributed to a broken culture. So, one thing that I can see the denomination is thinking maybe they can do about it is to sink more resources into this broken entity (classis) and see if it can be redeemed. What I am saying is that I feel quite certain that we will not be healthy until we leave our classis structures, but not the good they do, in the dust.

So, when I see someone like Paul who has so much to contribute to our denomination spending his efforts touting the delights of classis, an all-male entity in my neck of the woods, I figure I should speak up. Let's stop putting this effort into classis and start putting it into the venues and organizations where we do not have votes about whether or not to permit black people to join our denominational decision-making (this really happens today -- we do not permit any black people to be seated at our classis meetings if they are women!)..

So, yes, there are rules and then there is the culture of the denomination given those rules. We are hurtin' for certain in this regard. I am trying to help by calling this out. I think we need to render classis impotent to the extent we can while building up new venues. I understand why many would applaud more resources going into making healthy classes. I understand that might seem like a good direct approach to fixing "us." I am suggesting that I see no way that we will reap the changes we seek by taking this tactic. I think we need to downplay, not play up, our classes, while raising up whatever we come up with as the new approach to regional ministries. This is not a small thing to do, but it will be necessary if we want our denomination to thrive.

I am a futurist, as are many people in the computing industry, and I sometimes get things like this wrong, but my instincts have proven to be very good on such matters over the years. So one piece of advice I have for the CRC is to figure out how to build up the structures that build up people, not the ones that deny them a seat at the table. 

Cheers!  --dawn

Community Builder

Dawn: I bit on answering your question -- would like an answer to mine.

As to your post immediately above, I feel like I'm watching re-runs.  You say you don't to want to rehash women-in-office but yet you seem to rehash but from a different angle (get rid of classes because some won't seat women) so as not to be recognized as a rehash.  And you make the racism analogy again, but without any further explanation to help anyone understand the point of your analogy (again, I bit on your question, would like an answer to mine).

I just don't think classis is a broken structure, unless of course you mean that we are all living broken lives, etc etc.  My classes met no long ago and it "worked" (so, not broken).  You simply disagree with some classes who won't seat women about not seating women, as if that is all there is to classis.  Its hyperbolic to call it "broken."  They won't seat me either -- still doesn't mean its broken.

Again, would like an answer to my question that is in my response post answering yours.

I do not know what I did not answer. I really do have a day job ;-) so I'm likely doing this too quickly. So, tracking down the question that is in your response that I missed will take some time. Are you willing to restate it?  Thanks.  --dawn

Why not let each CHURCH decide instead of each CLASSIS?  Individual churches are very different even within one classis.  Churches should have control over whether or not women are elected/selected.  Ultimately, in our church God makes the final decision because we draw names.  PLEASE consider doing more at the church level.  There is already a lack of unity within some congregations.  There are enough issues between young and old (music type for instance) and specific individuals.  Let each church handle this question individually with voting by their OWN MEMBERS.  The possibility of women in council was suggested to our pastor.  He immediately said, "No, I'm not even going there" -- not because he (and many) of our congregation are against it, but I think he said it for two other reasons:  1) he didn't want to prepare for a battle, 2) many churches in our classis are against it.  I say churches should have more power for these decisions.  I don't have time to read all of the comments above, but WHY NOT HAVE CHURCHES DECIDE THIS TYPE OF THING SINCE IT INVOLVES A MEETING GROUP WITHIN THAT CHURCH ONLY?

I agree that it should be decided at the church level. I would prefer that there be no blocking churches in the denomination, but I would prefer that there be female Catholic priests too. I do think that there is a correlation between the way our churches treat women and the way they are mistreated in society, but I can accept that it is not my calling to work directly to change the Catholic church nor every CRC congregation.

Given that I agree that such decisions should be made by the congregations and I agree with Paul that our denomination would not be well-served by bringing up this topic at any foreseeable synod, the question is a tactical one. How can we help the CRC thrive given that we have this unfortunate sour culture at the level of classis?

My suggestion is that we minimize the importance of classis as much as we can and focus on those aspects of our church that do not lock women out. We can work regionally without involving classis at all. I would prefer we not put resources, such as an entire blog, into our classes. I would like to see Paul's blog talk about regional ministries, including inter-denominational, without any mention or use of classis. Classis strikes a sour chord and it appears that it will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I would like to see us be creative, visionary, and thriving by doing something altogether different. I realize it is just my instincts vs those of others, but I feel pretty confident that classis has a fatal flaw. Let's figure out how to move beyond it.  --dawn

I have not said anything till now, being leary of Proverbs 26:4.   But having heard DW's analogy what seems like a thousand times, I will only say that I find it personally vicious, pernicious, and malicious.   I find her continuous use of it obtuse, and careless of the feelings of others.  I find it interesting how she conveniently refuses to answer Doug's question, though she has no trouble answering every other concern, including manufacturing her own sidebars. 

She may feel like she is riding the back of the bus, but the church is not a bus, it is not a club, it is not a golf course, and no one has rights to tee times at classis.   If she wants to join a golf club instead of a church, she should do so.   If she wants to sit at the front of the local bus instead of participating in a church, she should do so.  

If her analogy was valid, then she should make that argument to the apostle Paul who asked women to be silent in the church and did not ask men to be silent in the church.  She should make that argument  to Christ who selected 12 male apostles.   She should make that argument to the early church who selected seven men of good repute to be assistants (some call them deacons).  She should accuse God of hurting her feelings because the twelve tribes of Israel were based on the sons not daughters of Israel.    If the analogy works in one direction, then it should also work in reverse.   She implies that because God chose twelve male apostles, He would not golf with blacks in heaven.   She implies that because God chose only males to be the heads of the twelve tribes of Isreal, that He would put women at the back of the bus in heaven.   

Her comments, and her inability to listen, and her fixation on her own feelings at the expense of scripture, at the expense of recognizing that God and Christ have themselves directly done what would offend her, makes me wonder about a very relevant  analogy regarding the women whom Paul told to be silent in the churches, and not to have authority over men. 

I feel that she would want christians who treat scripture sincerely and literally, to not only sit at the back of the bus, but to get off the bus and walk.   I feel she would want christians who treat scripture sincerely and literally to get off the golf course.    I feel she would have been very unhappy with Jesus, if she had met him after he had chosen the twelve apostles.   I feel that if you do not follow society in its norms and "rights", that she would want you to leave, to get out of the way.   I am sorry that I have to feel that way, but I do. 

I have no questions for her, since I believe it would be a miracle for her to make an answer that she has not already made a thousand times before.   Further, I am not even slightly interested in  an answer that merely puts social pressure on christians to follow social norms, rather than scriptural precedents.   

It has been very interesting to read all these posts. I am a pastor in Classis Yellowstone which is very conservative and currently does not allow women elders to be seated . We are sparsly populated and very spread out .Last month I drove 550 miles to our classis meting .Our classis has been going through a sort of renewal during the last few years. We had Eugene Peterson at our last classis meeting which  was very powerfull, I even had a few people say to me that it was 'life changing" We are talking about planting a few new churches in our classis ,including one in Salt Lake City that will target the large immigrant population that has been growing there. We see classis as a time of worship ,renewal, mission, and prayer.

We had a very intense  but loving and patient discussion on the Belhar and voted on two overtures to Synod on whether to accept it or reject it .The overture to ask Synod not to adopt the Belhar passed by a majority. But the the overture that came from one church to accept the Behlar was treated with dignity ,respect and love .Our classis even voted on sending two people to this years Synod even though we all know that they will probably  vote pro Behlar. What I am trying to say is that a lot of good spirit led stuff is happening in our classis.

 One church has expressed its plan to seat women at our classis in the future .Thier communication to us about this  was one of love, and kindness ,with a call to all of us for patience and prayer.  The communication was recieved in grace.  I don't know what is going to happen this Fall when we bring up seating women elders at Classis, but we are off to a good start .So what am I saying? Let us in this classis talk to one another ,disagree with one another, pray with one another ,as Eugene Peterson says "to practice Ressurection with one another" Havins something forced on this classis concerning the issue of seating women elders would do harm to all the work we have been doing.  Dawn I can sympathize with your frustrations, but you need to remember that for many of us outside CRC areas, Classis is very important. If churches in the classis and some others who currently did not seat elders felt presure from  Synod about this, it would not go over well.  Anyway, Dawn ,I would like to hear some of your ideas on how you think churches could work at the regional level but not as a classis.

Community Builder

I've appreciated the discussion and although frank and conflictive, I think I've benefited from it. 

On conflict and convincing. We all have our points of view and one of the things we desire from language and deliberation is the possibility of influence and shared perspective. Even in this comment stream we've seen that (and we knew it already of course) that words are often insufficient to change someone's perspective no matter how much we try. Part of this amazing gift of agency we've been given is the decision to remain where we will.

So often we imagine "If I can only help them to SEE the world as I know it THEN they will agree with me and we will be together. We SO long for this, and sometimes it never happens. For me this is the greatest experiential proof we have of the existence of hell. Sometimes there is no talking us in or out of something. Sometimes we either can't see or won't see, which means we are left to ourselves. 

I often remind my congregation that the LORD can make this vast universe with his word, and Jesus can calm the sea with a word, but look how even God gets frustrated, and speaks and speaks and speaks and how we resist him. In one short chapter God makes the world, but spends the rest of the long book of the Bible trying to talk us into seeing ourselves from His perspective. 

Paul, I appreciate your comments.   They are true.   My personal perspective related to this is:   we are presently going through a provincial election which makes media presentation and sound bites virtually the most important impact on the outcome of the election.   We do not need would be politicians with their sound bites trying to control a discussion about women at classis, nor about the Belhar, nor about any other issue, within the church setting.   We need sincere, considerate discussion with sincere listening and respect for others.   If we do not have this, then respect will be lost on all sides.  And then no discussion will be possible.

Community Builder

Al Hoksbergen called me with his comment when he was trying in vain to get it posted. I thought it was an interesting perspective. To me his insight highlights some of the reality of what a church community really is. We've got a church order, rules and regulations about proceedure, but we're also a community with a mixture of oral tradition and selective application the combination of which creates culture. 

Part of what we have unfortunately learned from our broader culture is manipulative tactic of playing the victim. This tactic I think is an ironic perversion of one of the most important gospel additions to our culture which is respect for the weak out of their inherent value by virtue of the image of God. When we internalize a victim mentality and appropriate it as an element of our identity we devolve further from our inheritance of created goodness. We recognize that the use of power to advantage oneself at the expense of another image bearer is a violation of the rights of the other by virtue of what the creator has bestowed upon them, in playing the victim we rob from our own status in order to injure the other through manipulation. Out of vengeance we try to pervert weakness and the power of the powerless. It is a parody of the Gospel power of weakness. 

Run this thought experiment with me. You are a woman elder in a classis that won't seat women elders at classis. What happens if the church delegates you to classis anyway? Will they bar you at the door? Will they call the police?

What is the worst that will likely happen? They may not accept the church credential or refuse to afford the woman elder the floor or accept her vote if that is possible. Is any of this the reason why churches don't do this? No. 

Why are churches and women hesitant to go and act according to their convictions? For a number of good reasons. They don't want conflict. They don't want things to get ugly. They don't want to get a name as a trouble maker. They don't want to alienate friends and family. They don't want to be seen as a jerk. They want to honor the church and the church order and the implicit fabric that creates our community. We all understand these things. We don't like people who like conflict for conflict's sake because we know the cost of conflict is real and painful and sometimes breaches are long lasting and costly. 

The civil rights movement has been repeatedly brough up in this conversation. I too have mixed feelings about the applicability of that conflict to this one. In reading Ross Douthat's new book "Bad Religion" he noted that many have attempted to leverage the success of that movement in other movements and most have for the most part failed. I think there are some deep reasons for that, one of which being that a generation of African Americans accepted poverty, physical brutality, economic injustice, blood and even death itself to purchase their freedom. Most other movements try to win the victory on the cheap and it just won't come. 

Part of why the CRC is where it is today are because of these implicit bonds of community. In conflict these bonds are tested, and sometimes they are severed. My father's generation knew the painful PRC split. The URC split was painful for others in our generation. We don't like conflict because it can be costly and the reason often we don't push things is because we our relationships with other are complex and there are broad economies of connections between us, Women in Office being one of those items on the list. 

I really appreciated Brian's input from Classis Yellowstone. I thought it filled out the picture nicely. This is a broad stage upon which we play and the issues involved are serious and are played out in this complex matrix of relational bonds. 

A while ago I saw the movie "The Help". On some levels it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie and I saw it with some friends, some of whom were African Americans who experienced the Jim Crow south first hand. Part of what the movie tried to do, but I think failed to do, was to show the complexity of the dilemma of sin in community.

Whether you believe the sin is the failure to embrace an egalitarian ethos or the failure to embrace a complementarian ethos one thing I hope we can agree upon is that we are all captives to sin in our world and the costs of it are enormous. Not all those who embraced a Jim Crow world were monsters. Not all who rebelled against it were heroes. LIfe is more complex than that. I've known my safe of people who could say the most racially prejudiced things in one minute and then turn around and treat someone across a racial boundary with sacrificial love the next. This is what we are like. 

We play our parts in these conflicts and we ought not to pretend that either they can be denied through living in denial or stopping our ears, nor by complaining and playing the victim. 

The longer I ponder the miracle of the gospel, the more I see that love of enemy is not some optional merit badge in advanced, exceptional Christian practice, but rather the very basis itself. We made no greater enemy and no other enemy than God himself and it required the Son of God himself at no lesser expense than the cost of his life to get us back into the family. Why we imagine that we can finesse, negotiate or fudge our way through the inevitable conflicts of life in order to avoid loving our enemy is only attributable to the ever present blinding nature of sin. 

Love hard, play hard, work hard, let the Christian life flow out of joy, not duty. pvk

I have to close this machine up, so one more quick response, not doing justice to all that has been written. I agree with you, Paul, regarding taking on a victim stance. I certainly do not see myself as a direct victim in this, even if recognizing that unlike the civil rights movement, when all women are locked out of this or that, I am part of that gender. I see myself as complicit in victimizing other women. Just because we, ourselves, do not want to claim we have been victimized, if we see someone punched in the face, we surely do not want to chide them if they scream, suggesting that they are acting like a victim.

There really are real victims out there and I know that I really am part of the problem where i want to be part of the solution. Throughout the world women are often treated as second class citizens. I am only trying to "act locally" by making noise here in this CRC forum as I am very familiar with the CRC.

I'm a bit confused that first you seem to imply that I take on a victim stance and then you ask me to pretend I am a victim. I do not have any goals nor delusions of ever being an officer in the CRC. So, I can speak out on behalf of victims, recognizing my part in harming them and working to overcome it, but I do not feel that it would be helpful for me to run through a scenario of this nature. My take is that we have some brokenness in our midst and can either go along as we are now, which to me seems like we are sweeping things under the carpet and not building a thriving church, or we can recognize we have this disease and work to overcome it. 

--dawn

It is incredible - in this day and age of ministry some people still don't believe women can do an outstanding job in ordained ministry.  Honestly, I strongly believe many women have shown they can do a great job - sometimes better than many our our men in ministry.

[quote=paulvanderklay]

Dawn is a member of a church within a classis that won't seat women. In a comment on a previous posting (and on other forums) she shared that this leads her to the conclusion that classis is a broken structure and should be replaced. 

Even though I believe all offices of the CRCNA should be open to women I've got doubts about Dawn's position. Part of this arises from my ideas about how culture and gospel work together in church structure.  My experience in other cultural contexts in the US and overseas leads me to believe that church structures need to reflect both the gospel (none do so perfectly) as well as the culture of the community. If the structure is too far out of alignment with the cultural understanding of community the church structure will be unintellible and probably abusive and unproductive.  For this reason I am disinclined to advocate for a synodical level effort to force these classes to change their policies. I think the present denominational position is appropriate for where we are at culturally, allowing each classis to determine its own position. Understanding cultural contexts and accomodating cultural needs is more than just recognizing the needs of communities defined by ethnicity or language.  Dawn is persistent if she's anything and she has brought me to think about the reality of seeing classis narrowly as a delegated voting body that appears and evaporates two or three times a year. Unlike congregation/council, and denomination/synod, we have one word for classis/classis. I think complementarianism is as much a cultural position as a hermenutical one and if it is pursued any classis that does not recognize women elders or pastors must somehow find a way to embody the principle in the classis in some better way than having women serve the lunch.  In 2006 I visited Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC and had the priviledge of not only meeting with Tim Keller but also with his church staff. Redeemer is part of the PCA which does not permit women to be elders. I spent an day meeting with most of the heads of ministry groups in the church and to my surprise found that most of them were women. If you want to hear Tim and Kathy Keller's position on Women in Office there are recorded talks on the Redeemer website and probably other places on the Internet. Even though I disagree with the Kellers' position on women elders I was pleasantly surprised to see how much positional power, control and responsibility women had in their church. Again, I do not advocate for the PCA position that Redeemer is in compliance with. My sympathies are more with my friends at City Church San Francisco, a church similar to Redeemer (complete with former Redeemer staffers) who left the PCA for the RCA. Yet for those who are working to embody a complementarian ethos it seems to me that something else is needed in classis to bring expression to this position than simply a prohibition. Cultures that I know who can't envision women pastors or elders (if they have elders) at this moment almost all have other positions for women within their cultures of great power and responsibility that afford expression of a complementarian ethos, valuing the gifts, leadership and expression of both sexes. I think classes that wish to try to develop the complementarian ethos should see this as part of the package.  Now I write this post with a great deal of hesitation because I don't wish to ignite a Women-in-Church-Office flame war. This debate has been a part of my experience in the CRC for all of my life. We've too often handled this conflict poorly. At the same time I think the topic is worth discussing.  Do you believe the existence of CRC classes that don't seat women elders condemns classis as a structure? If so, what should replace it?  If you are a complementarian, how should that ethos be reflected in classis? If you have a complementarian classis what concrete steps are you pursuing to give expression to God's gifts given to women? 

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I still can't believe some CRC males have the archaic mentality that women cannot contribute to the Kingdom in ordained ministry.  It's time to wake up!!!

That's the kind of sharp, inciteful, biblical reasoning that's going to persuade 'em the ol' so-and-so's!

The issue for those who do not believe women should be ordained to one or more of the offices of the church is not one of believing them incapable of completing the tasks.  It is a matter of believing they are not permitted to ordain women to these offices - not because some colluding group of archaic males thinks poorly of women, but because they believe Scripture does not allow themto do so.  Many women also believe Scripture does not permit it.  They may be mistaken in that belief (wouldn't be the first time), but that is what they believe.  The arguments to the contrary have not persuaded them, at least, not yet.  Deriding them as mere archaisms, describing them as, if not racists and bigots, at least akin to them in their intent and actions, or anything else that does not address their actual beliefs about the will of God will not suffice to move them.

Furthermore, the idea that simply because an idea is old it is to be discarded as an "archaic mentality" is both naive and foolish.

If I may quote...

"With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in..." -A. Lincoln, 4 March 1865

Community Builder

Antonio: Some would say that among those archaic men (though not CRC) are Jesus Christ, who selected 12 disciples, all of whom were male, and the apostle Paul, who was very emphatic about not allowing women to teach or have authority over men.

So were Jesus and Paul also males with archaic mentalities?  If not, exactly how do you explain their actions?

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