Not long ago, an entire church denomination erased the college where I teach from its approved ministries list because they claimed we have fallen from whatever level of righteousness that denomination seems worthy. Makes me sad, not only because I don't like getting kicked out of a fellowship where we once had good friends, but also because I've enjoyed having students from that church over the years, some of whom even became close. It's not at all pleasant to be told you've fallen from grace.
It's not rocket science, of course--it's theology: we don't do faith right. That's the bottom line for our getting thumbed.
Among evangelicals, no greater divide exists than that which arises from differing views on the place of women in church office. There's no disputing how the Apostle Paul felt, of course; he makes it abundantly clear in more than one of his letters that women are not leaders, men are--and always will be, or at least always should be. There were 12 apostles, right? Not a Jane or Lucy among 'em. Question his words, and you're questioning scripture. It's just that simple to some of the faithful.
The folks who threw us out smell apostacy--ours. After all, the denomination in which we had our birth allows women preachers.
Now me?--I think the world, like the scripture itself, is just a hair more complex.
In an absolutely wonderful article in the New Republic recently, Garry Wills took on the church he loves and has been a member of for his whole life, the Roman Catholic Church, for the horrors it has not only allowed, but even perpetuated by tolerating abusive priests. The article's compelling strength lies in Wills's undying commitment to his church, but his insistence nonetheless that the Vatican seriously consider allowing priests to marry. Male hierarchy, he says, is most clearly responsible for the horrific scandal the church continues to suffer.
An article in U. S. Catholic echoes Garry Wills' point: "There can also be no doubt that it is long past time to have a truly open discussion about mandatory celibacy, one long requested by the bishops of the developing world and by many preists who are questioning the direct link between their ministry and that 1000-year old discipline."
Can the Roman Catholic church reverse itself like that? I just don't know. I don't know how any church does. When my denomination tried to take a more tolerant view of the place of women in church office, we lost thousands. When our little congregation tried it, we lost dozens. Change doesn't come easily.
Can the church change? I don't know.
I'm not a Catholic. I've no place in that particular argument, but I'm interested in the politics somehow, in the route good, well-meaning people can or cannot take when canon law or centuries-old traditions run up against a clearly changing society.
And we are changing. Hanna Rosen's cover story, "The End of Men," in the new Atlantic makes very clear that immense change is happening all around, for men and women. Put succinctly, it's becoming a woman's world. We've lost of millions of jobs that require male bulk and strength--factory jobs, farm jobs--jobs associated with smokestacks and greasy fingernails, jobs at which men have a leg up. New jobs in the information age don't favor the male of the species. That's a fact. It's not hard to imagine a world in which men will become vastly less important. In a way, we've already arrived. Look at Sarah Palin--and the particular political persuasion of those who thinks she's viable as a Presidential candidate. In 2008, we could easily have had a woman candidate for President; we had one for VP.
My father-in-law watched his father plow with horses when he was a boy. He claims that in his life he's seen unbelievable change. So have I--but not in technology. I grew up with a TV and airlines. We always had a car. If I think about change in my life, I think the most significant change is that which has occured within the lives of women. We no longer live in a Leave it to Beaver world.
How does a church that wants to remain faithful to God find its way in a world that's changing? That's the question. What does it mean to be faithful? Roman Catholics are going to have to continue to ask and answer that question in an uncertain future, their own immediate past morally soiled by a doctrinal stance that looks more and more archaic in a world in which its rulings not only make no sense but have actually injured that church's own standing with the people it's meant to serve.
It seems to me that even those denominations whose righteousness, their fidelity to scripture is, in thier minds, illustrated most clearly in their insistence that men run the church are also going to have to change. Somehow. What's happening outside the sanctuary is undeniable: in 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income, Atlantic says. Today, the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in ten moms--many of them single mothers--are the primary breadwinners. Primary.
Truly orthodox fellowships can point at those stats and say that right there lies apostacy, right there lies evil. A world run by women is exactly what must be fought in God's own bride, the church. Okay, but methinks it's going to become harder and harder to make that argument.
Then again, maybe being faithful means keeping the good wife at home with the kids. But there are fewer and fewer of the old jobs for the old man to take. So even if you want to go back, even if you think it's scripturally mandated, it ain't going to be easy. Maybe Christians should all slowly fade into some bucolic, Amish way of life. Sure. I just doubt it's going to happen.
This denomination who thumbed us feels we have gone the way of all flesh because, among other criticisms, some of our churches have women preachers. That's why we're out, I guess.
It'll be interesting to see how they adjust to a new order. "Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time," Ms. Hanna Rosin says, "that is changing--and with shocking speed."
She may be wrong, of course, but look at last week's elections.