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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

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. 


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

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

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 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

Dawn Wolthuis on April 24, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Doug - I definitely do not intend to characterize anyone other than myself and definitely do not intend to be demeaning. I think that it is OK for me to call my own sins the way I see them without calling out anyone else's sins. When I use the civil rights analogy, I really do not know if everyone who insisted that black people sit in the back of the bus was sinning by doing so. I also do not feel a need to judge them, even if I would think it was right for me to work to help society remove such an injustice. Similarly, I do not think of others being engaged in a sin when they lock women out of church offices. Not only do I not know if they are sinning, I do no think it is my place to be the judge. 

I DO look at my own sins. By choosing to be a member of the CRC, I am engaged in doing something that I find to be abhorable and sinful. I am a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times. I am a member of an organization that refuses to seat women in a regional decision-making body. I am appalled by my behavior. I know that there are people who go around pointing fingers at others, but that is not me. I hope you can tap into that and understand that my analogies are to help others understand the burdens of those who are like me so that we can figure out how to move forward. I know that the culture of the CRC that puts me in this position is a problem for our denomination.

Are you able to understand that with my analogy to the civil rights movement, I am trying to shed light and not darkness? Can you see that I am telling you how some in the CRC must live, with this tear in their spirit because they can see so specifically how complicit they are in the wrongs against women in the world? Can you understand that I think that I am living with something that I know to be a sin in my life BECAUSE I am a member of the CRC? Is this how we want the CRC to function? If not, then let's do something different. That's what I'm saying. I am not pointing fingers at any person at all, other than myself. I am not making such suggestions to claim any victim status. I am a future-leaning person. I am looking toward the future in my denomination and I want to help paint a brighter future.  Does that make more sense?  --dawn

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

Dawn Wolthuis on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good points regarding culture, Paul. I just want to pipe up on the word "complementarian" although I know Paul has heard this from me before.

I am certainly a complementarian in understanding that men and women complement each other. I think that the different nationalities and races are also complementary. Short people and tall people complement each other too. We can see that some tasks are easier for one group, on the whole (that is, as a stereotype) than for another group on the whole. Complementarian is a good thing.

What is not acceptable is to say that because we complement each other, we must lock out entire races, nationalities, or genders from something that some in that group think/feel they have been called to do. I see nothing in Scripture that ought to be applied as calling us to "play God" with lock-outs, whether of a race or a gender. We are instructed, rather, to see that we are all one in Christ.

The terms "complementarian" and "egalitarian" are not mutually exclusive. We are called to both of these.


Dawn Wolthuis on April 18, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

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 Wolthuis on April 29, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, I am aware that there are differences of opinion when interpreting Scripture. These have been visited and revisited in our denomination. Just with your few words above, I have no idea why you think that because Jesus had 12 male disciples that he was locking out women. Further, I cannot understand why Jesus having 12 disciples would prompt you to call women into discipleship (if you are among those who do) but think they should be locked out of other roles.

So my concerns about classis here are given that we have multiple interpretations that we have said are acceptable within our denomination, we need a better way of working this out. I think we need to figure out how to address the organizational cutlure issues that we have now, and I think some creative efforts related to classis could really go a long way. Sweeping the issue under the carpet, pretending that all is OK and causing one classis after the next to vote on whether women can move to the front of the bus is not cutting it, in my opinion. For example, how many more times do I have to hear that my classis again voted to refuse to seat women?

I would like to see our resources put into ways to mitigate the problems we have specifically with classis rather than putting lipstick on it at this point.   --dawn

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!

As for stubbornness, God made Frisians too, but, yes, I understand that there has been a compromise, so now I am asking questions about what to do in light of this.

I do not agree that the church should remain stagnant and not move forward. There were many stubborn people on either side of the civil war and many other disagreements in history. Those who were in the South really do have to accept the decisions made about which they did not agree. Those agreements do change over time, however (think about discussions related to the confederate flag).

Given the wisdom provided by Hoksbergen here, it might very well be that the actions of synod were out of order, that synod cannot give Classis the right to forbid women to be seated at its assemblies. In that case, it should be revisited, I would think.

My comments here were related to 1) accepting the actions of synod as a compromise, awful as it was and 2) figuring out how to move the church forward in spite of some problems with our organizational culture given that we have in that those whose consciences are torn by having a woman at the table (2nd CRC in Kazoo, for example)  and those, like me, who find it very difficult to understand how I, personally, am willing to permit myself to be a member of a country club that does not provide tee times for black people (or the analogous in the case of women in office). How can we address this "org culture" issue so that we can sail into the future?

I surely do not have all of the answers to this question, although I have spent some time designing an approach that I think would work (even if taking a lot of work). I am able, I think, to detect an anti-pattern when I see one -- something that will surely not help us move forward on this front. The one I am seeing here is too much attention being given to classis -- such as this well-done blog on the subject of classis. That is where I differ with Paul. I think we need to focus our local and regional attention on everything but classis, a place where we have severe issues (as evidenced by 2nd Kazoo and also what I can feel in my own wrenched conscience, especially when I again hear that my classis voted against women being seated).

So, yes, I hope that someone takes and runs with the Hoksbergen information to try to redeem classis, but if we cannot, then let's at least take the spotlight off from it and put our resources into non-classis work.  Make sense?  --dawn

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