In my brief time as guide for the Classis network I’ve encouraged its readers to give voice to the frustration and angst I often hear about Classis in the CRC. A comment that’s been repeated both on and off line seems to reflect the perception that Classis is often resistant to influence and leadership. I very much imagine that observation to be true.

September 26, 2011 0 4 comments

I was told that the synod and the classis don’t really exist. These are not organizations that exist over time; they were not intended to become pieces of bureaucracy. They only exist when they are in session. They are decision making bodies that are convened to do specific business, and then they go out of existence until the next one happens.

September 14, 2011 0 1 comments

Is your classis merely perfunctory? Is it dying like the village goat tied to the post? Are a few pastor/roosters using classis to play pecking order games? Is classis about some old men talking about "glory days" long gone? Tell your favorite classis horror story (no names please) or what you did to fix it. 

August 25, 2011 0 4 comments

Is your classis a secret society? Are only a select few "in the know"? Do classical committees have a secret handshake? The CRC opposes secret societies. Make sure your classis doesn't become one. 

August 17, 2011 0 1 comments

The denominational structure is a drama queen that too often distracts Synod from where its focus should be. Let's trying thinking outside the box. What if we got Synod out of the agency management business? Could shifting resources from the denominational to the classical level better serve the church by reinvesting in local ministry? Would local ministry flourish if your classical budget were two to three times its current size?

August 10, 2011 0 11 comments

Classis is sometimes viewed as a sort of forgotten middle child, but it is really a foundational structure the value of which I don't think we have fully explored. When denomination is "too big", and one classis is "too small", can inter-classical partnerships fit "just right"? 

August 1, 2011 0 2 comments

Two things real people have said to me: "I work at my church for free. I get paid to go to classis twice a year." "Pastors are kingdom builders, they build their own kingdoms." Classis is where pushy pastors meet their limits, hopefully. 

July 25, 2011 0 19 comments

Why do I want to blog about classis? I believe that the continued development of classis will be key for the vitalization of the CRCNA. I think classis is the least supported, most neglected, level of our three tiered system of church structure. I think investment in classis as a tool offers some of the greatest potential

July 18, 2011 0 1 comments

Over the past six months I've had the opportunity to blog, write articles, and find resources for this online Network about classis. It has been a wonderful way of processing the work that I have been a part of. I've enjoyed getting other's opinions, stories and thoughts about the subject. I've been encouraged and challenged 

July 11, 2011 0 1 comments

I have been reading The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter. I was introduced to this book and this method of planning earlier this year. As I watched Synod last month, it struck me how different this method of planning and discussing an issue really is. I can't help wondering if there is a place for this 

July 3, 2011 0 1 comments

Until spring of 2010 Classis Hamilton had been following a 1950’s model of church governance which was heavy on administration and maintenance leaving churches feeling isolated from each other. Through the re-visioning process Classis Hamilton wanted new values of ministry, mission, and community to emerge with less administration, less maintenance, and less isolation between churches.

June 29, 2011 0 0 comments

At most classis meetings, CRC agencies and other ministries and organizations that are affiliated with the classis report in. Classis meetings are often seen as a good way of getting their information out to the churches. But is this type of reporting really the best way to get the information out? 

June 27, 2011 0 1 comments

No more "exceptional gift" entry for Ministers of the Word (Article 7) by Classis. In 2010 Synod discouraged affinity classes. In 2011 Synod didn't like ratifying confessional changes at Classis. It's not difficult to see within these debates the tension between uniformity and diversity, between trust and control.

June 20, 2011 0 7 comments

Reformed polity locates authority in three different assemblies: the local council, the synod and the classis. It is my assertion that the classis is the least valued, the most neglected, the most poorly resourced and the least utilized level of the three. 

June 14, 2011 0 12 comments

We need denominations and yet they are flawed human creations. Bullard does not think that we can exist as churches without the denomination around us because “without them and without the ways they allow us to be people of faith together, we have no access to a God any larger than the God of our self.”

June 7, 2011 0 2 comments

The local church's need for classes and the denomination is a bit like a believing family's need for a congregation. A believing family should not just be content with worshiping and studying together, they need a church to attend, a gathering of other believers where they can worship, study, learn and hold each other accountable together. The same is true for churches.

May 31, 2011 0 2 comments

Many of our churches are becoming more diverse so we think this will naturally flow to having a more diverse leadership in our churches and then more diversity in our classes and denomination. But it isn't happening naturally. It seems like if we are to become more diverse... we will need to become more

May 17, 2011 0 27 comments

This examination is the last step in a long process of being declared a candidate. I wonder if it is a bit redundant. Before the classical exam the candidate has been through four years of theological education, been examined and approved by the faculty of the seminary, been examined and approved by the Synodical Candidacy Committee and been approved at Synod.

April 28, 2011 0 13 comments

Is it right that congregations ask the question about classis: “What’s in it for us?” and then base their participation on the answer? Or should congregations be participating, not for what they can get out of classis, but for what they can contribute?

April 7, 2011 0 2 comments

Usually church meetings begin and end with prayer but do not have a focus on prayer. Yet prayer is the way we communicate with God. Shouldn't our church meetings, even business meetings, incorporate prayer throughout the meeting?

March 22, 2011 0 0 comments

There are a number of people who think that classes have become irrelevant to our congregations.  And perhaps overall, there is a waning interest.  But I also know that there are many who are working hard at helping classis do things differently in order that they become more relevant and address the needs of leaders and churches.

March 7, 2011 0 4 comments
Resource, Job Description

This document gives a suggested job description for a Classical Prayer Coordinator.

February 22, 2011 0 0 comments

Can a church polity (i.e. the Church Order) that was developed in a time when the Christendom world view was fully operational still be relevant in our multi-faith world, where Christianity is just one of many faiths seeking people’s attention? 

February 21, 2011 0 26 comments
Resource, Article

In this paper, Craig Van Gelder examines the history and the current context of classes. He encourages the reader to take a look and begin to engage church polity as it interacts with classes.

February 21, 2011 0 0 comments

Usually our discussion is dominated by five to ten pastors (and maybe one experienced elder) who are comfortable expressing their thoughts. We wondered how to encourage those quiet elders to lend their wisdom to the discussion.

February 14, 2011 0 8 comments



Dawn:  You say, "My interest is in the question of how the CRC can thrive, given people like me and others equally convinced that women must suffer lock-outs."  My answer: by living with each other in the kind of gracious demonstrated by Acts 15, 1 Cor 13, Mother Theresa, and many other examples and directives.  By understanding and living the principle that he/she who truly serves if he/she who truly leads, that washing feet is more important than being served by others at the table.  Frankly, no one in the church, CRC or otherwise, needs to be "in authority" to serve in an truly unrestricted way. 

Christians will forever be wrong on particular "issues."  I'll be wrong on some and so will you.  If you or I encounter a brother or sister who shows love and grace, but differs from us as to questions that are important, you and I do everyone a disfavor by if we characterize that person in a demeaning way.  My bottom line is that why I'd avoid endless analogies to racism, archaic attitudes, etc.  I think too many on both sides have been too demeaning to "the other side" and still are.  If we can't live in grace with each other, the world will have no cause to consider what we have to say.  We can know everything and yet be nothing but loud noise.

Antonio: But then Jesus was "archaic" man as well, not?  And Paul?  And guess who designed that oppressive Old Testament system that was patriarchal in the first place, that provided a sign of the covenant to males only.  If Jesus was a "good Jew" (and he was in a way), he complied with a system that God created in the first place.

Understand I agree that women should not be prohibited from the offices of elder and minister.  But I do object to characterizing those who take another view as anological racists or just of unbelievable archaic mindsets.  I genuinely don't understand why we have to deride those of a position that is clearly Biblically defensible by essentially calling names.  Why do we have to posit the existence of villains.  Again, I'll point to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 as instructive for all of us.


I see what you are saying, but in the case of a classis that hasn't voted to declare the word male inoperative according to their classical rules of procedure, wouldn't the chair of the classis meeting probably just rule the delegation out of order (probably not saying it right, but hope you get the idea).


The HISTORICAL Jesus of Nazareth was a GOOD JEW and as such was part of the patriarcal society that sorrounded him and he lived in.  Jesus was no REVOLUTIONARY - He didn't even conspired against the Roman Empire that had colonized the Jewish people. 

God bless the ORDAINED WOMEN in the CRC - they sure demonstrate that GOD uses them for the  establishment of the Kingdom.  Keep up the good work no matter the opposition from some archaic men in the CRC.

I am trying to catch up and will undoubtedly miss some questions, perhaps some directed toward me. I'll tackle this one as it is the first one I am seeing.

Yes, I understand why you might say "ah, come on," however I do want you to understand that I am not accusing any individuals other than myself of bigoted behavior. I am indicating that our church seems to have no means for me to be a member without knowingly living a life of sin in this regard. If others think this means that they too are sinning, then that is outside of the scope of my statements, but I can see how this can be logically derived from my statements about my own behavior. I am honestly making no such accusations in this situation, however.

I realize that I will be living my life side by side with people who block women from this or that. Of course I want all such behavior to stop, just as I want to eliminate hunger. I cannot purge the world of all such ills and I do not go around judging others. I know that it is not my job to judge in that way. I am called to align my own behavior with what is right, however. 

So, my statements here are not intended to change the minds of anyone who might think that they have been called to lock women out of church offices. I no longer have what it takes to carry on a dialog on that topic. I no longer feel that any good can come out of me addressing questions such Jesus choosing 12 men as disciples. If this is such strong evidence to you of something, I would think I should hear more (or ANY) sermons about how I should not be a disciple. 

My interest is in the question of how the CRC can thrive, given people like me and others equally convinced that women must suffer lock-outs. Over the course of my career, I have worked hard to leave those organizations with whom I have worked, whether as an employee, a vendor, a customer, or a partner in any respect better off than when I started working with them. It is, therefore, difficult to see my denomination seem to be in a state of decline.

My statements here are about how to take the CRC today and help it grow and thrive into the future. I have ideas on how to do this, but others might have even better ideas than mine (not provided in any detail here -- it would take a book!). My design for thriving include minimizing the work of classis and growing up other efforts that help provide a better culture within the CRC. That is why I am responding to Paul's blog on Classis.

The fact that I can see no way for the denomination to thrive if we put any sort of focus on classis does not imply that no one can come up wtih a means to fix things while retaining classis as it stands. I simply cannot see it. My intuition on this is not backed by clear business intelligence, although I have reviewed various charts regarding our decline and my intuition has some basis in experience. If I could hear anyone else give a clear strategy for getting from here to there while also trying to raise the importance of classis or even keep it the same, I would definitely listen. I have pictures and designs in my head for how the denomination could thrive (please tell my head to STOP as no one has asked me to do this!!!) and all of them require giving classis the most minimal role we can at this point and working to replace it over time. I do not think that synod should address women-in-church-offices again, but what we have now is not workable, in my opinion.

If you see a path for us to put more into our sometimes all-male classes and have a culture that permits us to thrive into the future, please lay out a plan. I just can't see it. I want us to thrive. I think we need to give classis as minimal a role as required and work to replace it over time. I realize I did not provide a ton of facts, but I did provide one. We appear to be continuing in some state of decline. I can see some ways to get us out of it provided we give classis as minimal a role as possible. That's all I'm trying to say while providing some rationale by showing you the culture I'm living in -- where given that I want to be a member of a CRC church I am compelled to live in a way that I feel and think is sinful. This is not about making it easier for me. It is about a culture that is broken and could be fixed. I suspect if you can fix this issue for me, you can do a lot to repair the culture of our denomination.   --dawn

Antonio: OK, so you are saying that Paul couldn't rise above his culture, even when writing Scripture (and despite the working of the Holy Spirit)?  Paul was aware of Peter's vision (clean/unclean animals) and the implication for that, but he couldn't figure out that he should no longer direct that women should not teach or have authority over men?

And what about Jesus himself (you didn't respond to that).  He came to literally change everything, and did, but he didn't bother to include even one female among his disciples, choosing instead to, well to use your characterization of those times, oppress them?

Why could Jesus and Paul not quote your line: "The Grace and Love of God is greater than the silly "patriarcal society" which oppresses women, and so we will not conform our actions to those oppressive ways?

You may all of this sound so simple, but then why wasn't it so simple and straight forward for Jesus and Paul.  Why, instead, they they act and speak in a way that continued what you regard as oppression?

One person of the Trinity does have gender - Jesus.  The first person of the Trinity has chosen to have himself referred to as Father, though that does not mean he has gender as we do.  But regardless, God chose in his wisdom to create us with gender - male and female.  The passage under discussion - Gal 3:28 - did not then and does not now mean the differences inherent in gender evaporated and all Christians become some sort of hermaphrodite.

So what do the twin facts of differentiation in human gender (male and female) and our unity in Christ (Gal 3:28 and other passages) mean for the Church as she seeks to minister in the name of Jesus now?  Some of our brothers and sisters have looked to Scripture and come to the conclusion that they are not permitted to ordain women to one or more of the offices of the Church.  Some have looked to Scripture and come to the conlusion that there are no structural boundaries on women serving within the Church.  Synod has declared that there is no way within traditional Reformed hermeneutics to conclusively determine which, if either, of these perspectives is the more faithful to the Biblical text.

It's not a matter of being afraid to "learn something for the Kingdom", and if you'll look back through my posts you will find that I have not stated my own view on the question.  That is intentional since, in my opinion, the key question as it pertains to classes, synods and councils is not how to make other people think what I think but how do we, institutionally, implement Synod's declaration that these two opposing views are both warranted by Scripture and we should find some way to live and serve together in the Church.



I couldn't agree with you more on the issue of "diversity" quotas and ethnic advisors; although, I am aware in the United States the race/ethnic card is always in peoples minds,  yes, including the Christians...  The "diversity" quotas and ethnic advisors are many times (although with good intentions) insult us as human beings created in God's image.  The quota and ethnic cards attempt against the dignity of us as members of different races and ethnic groups in the United States and Canada.

Eric our focus as a Church, the CRC, is to work for the Kingdom of God now and here, where God has placed us, male and female, and, yes, in ordained ministry.  Remember God is Spirit and therefore has no sex - gender.

My recommendation  - don't be afraid to work with an ordained female elder or minister of the Word and Sacraments...  Challenge yourself and learn something for the Kingdom...

Let's also, then, apply the "neither Jew nor Greek" bit and get rid of the "diversity" quotas, ethnic advisors, and all the rest of the race/ethnic tracking system we use.

It's a silly debate to you because the answer seems so patently obvious to you.  Well, the answer seems patently obvious to those who think they are not permitted to ordain women as well - and I assure you that they also will at times call it a silly debate.  "Why doesn't everybody see the obvious, self-evident logic of agreeing with me?"

It may be that we need to agree to disagree, which is what Synod decided in 1992-95.  The difficulty is in answering the question, "How do we then live together and continue to work together in the assemblies of the Church when we disagree on such a question?"

Synod and the various classes have been trying to thread that needle in the near 20 years since.  I don't think we've found a very effictive method.  Personally, I don't think there is one.

The Apostle Saint Paul is a "man of his time period" a male centered Jewish culture...  In a patriarcal society is no surprise that women were oppressed by the males.  I our times let's apply the concept that for Christ and God there is neither male nor female...  The Grace and Love of God is greater than the silly debate of ordained ministry for our women in the CRC.

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?

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

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!!!

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.


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? 


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. 


The guidance of the Holy Spirit can be a tenuous thing to discover.   I mean how do we know it was the spirit who guided or whether it was man's own personal desires and worldly ambitions which guided?   We trust in it, but we know we must test the spirits.  The way to test the spirits is to have councils and classes test them.   If that testing of the spirits at classis is disregarded by delegates as not being valid, then how do we know the Spirit is guiding at synod?  Perhaps it is also invalid?  

If a similar thing were to happen at each classis, that all delegates were assured  to vote exactly contrary or most likely contrary, to the decision of their classis, then why waste time at classis?   And does that mean that synod would be perceived to be a type of elitist decision making process far removed from classes and councils, in essence relegating council decisions as irrelevant and thus mere servants of synod, rather than synod having delegated authority originating at the local councils?  

If that type of thing happens frequently, then synod will become irrelevant to councils, and perhaps to some classes as well.   Rather than synod being a delegated body that represents the decisions and guidance of classes, it will simply be a body of people who have the money and time and ambition to attend to represent their own personal agendas and issues.   The delegates then will be using classis to achieve their ends, rather than classes using delegates to achieve their ends.  In my opinion, this is unhealthy.   This is more likely not the Spirit working, but rather the will of man.   A few men and women who want to use the denomination, synod and classis for their own ends.   Thus is how I see it. 

Using the Belhar as a confession is a serious thing, and if deliberations on it can be upset by such a few people who maintain their personal wisdom against that of the original authorities, then how do we know it is the Spirit working.   I guess the system will work how it works, but it seems your classis was lacking in wisdom when they selected such delegates, or they didn't believe in their own deliberations.  

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

Briantebben and Jeff, thanks for your comments.  First, I want to affirm that yes, delegates are ultimately supposed to be deliberative.   However, in your briantebben's example, you state that the delegate who presented an overture that he did not agree with, will be assumed to vote in favor of the belhar, in spite of his church disagreeing, and in spite of his classis disagreeing with it.   This would happen according to your example, even before deliberations at synod have occurred.   That is the issue.   His deliberations have already ocurred in his mind, not swayed by deliberations at his council or his classis.   Thus there does not appear to be much room for the influence of communal deliberations that follow.  It appears merely to be a superiority of intellect or opinion that supercedes the deliberations of his council or classis.  

This makes the whole issue more political than deliberative, since if the selection of delegates can be manipulated, based on as you said, " many people commented he is smart ,well spoken, gracious, and and a good listener ...",   which means having a kind of popular appeal, or in other words, how could you not select someone who is smart, well spoken, gracious and a good listener?   In the world of politics, this has a huge impact.   But, most polilticians are smart well spoken and gracious and a good listener.    Most pastors are as well.   Many elders are also.   This is no basis for selecting a delegate who has already predetermined to vote directly contrary to an issue that classis has voted on, even before any deliberations have taken place.  Furthermore, it biases the vote and the considerations of the deliberations in such a way, that classis has in effect  neutered its own vote.  which 

In my opinion, if a delegate votes differently than what classis has voted, then the delegate needs to identify clearly what comments and arguments at synod were new, which arguments had not been made at classis.   Otherwise, perhaps the delegate will simply vote the way he does because he wants to, because he had already decided to, because he had decided his opinion was more valuable than the opinion of classis, or because he was folllowing a friend or mentor or former professor in the vote.  Is this type of meaningless decision making what we want?   

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.

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'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. 

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.


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.


Part of the answer I think would be that classis and synod are both *deliberative* assemblies before they are (if at all) *representative* assemblies.  Delegates are sent by the classis not to vote lock step with whatever the classis or church wants, but to freely deliberate with the guidance of the Holy Spirit on matters of common concern.  I would say that this deliberative nature actually dampens the political nature of the broader assemblies, not aggrivates it.


John, one more thing. I agree with you that delagates at Synod need to be open to hearing arguments and opinions from other people. But this needs to go for all people .Perhaps a few delagates from our classis that I thought would vote no on the Belhar ,may vote yes after talking with others and praying about it.

HI John. I never thought some points I made in another post would then end up being commented on in another seperate post. You do raise some interesting points ,some of which I wrestled with personaly before our last classis meeting. FYI, I do not want the Belhar to be accepted by Synod as a fourth confession. I did not get to say much at our classis that discussed the two overtures about the Belhar ,one to accept and one to reject , because I was chairing the meeting.

I disagree with you that delegates have to vote in sync with what the majority of thier classis feels when it comes to matters at Synod .In our particular case ,Classis Yellowstone ,one delegate represented a church that had brought an overture to our classis meeting that asked us to accept the Belhar. The overture was voted down. This person clearly was for the Behlar and so in no way is he being dishonest by going to Synod to vote for the Belhar. We sent him ,even though he did not share the view of the majoirty ,because as many people commented he is smart ,well spoken, gracious, and and a good listener .The kind of person we want to represent our Classis no matter how he votes.   I really hope Classis doesnt become a mirror of the current political proccess in this country where we send politicians to argue and where talking to others of different views, and compromising is seen as wrong. Synod needs to be different . It is a time to talk with other CRC delagates ,to listen to them ,argue perhaps ,pray together and even in our differences see eachother as brothers and sisters in Christ.

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.

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.   

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.

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

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?

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'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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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."

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

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.

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

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!