Hollow Outrage

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.

At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.

CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”

Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:

  • First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
  • Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
  • Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
  • Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
  • Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
  • Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.

Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.

The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:

One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”

Please.

There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.

Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?

Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort,  “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”

Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.

Why?

Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.

I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?

I don’t.

Call me callous if you like. Shrug.

No leader is or should be immune to criticism.

Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,”  because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.

But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.

And there’s very little engagement with it.

I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.

Your outrage is hollow.

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Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.

Photo credit: Anna Demianenko

 

Five Minute Friday: Should

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle reader,

I had hoped to rejoin the #fmfparty chat last night after a months-long absence, but it wasn’t in the cards. These days I’m doing good to be somewhat coherent past 6:30 p.m. All I could do was peek in an say “hello” before becoming one with the couch.

But I wanted to get back in the flash-writing habit.

So, linking up with Kate and away we…

Go.

In the movie Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie tells the Lleweln-Davies family that “just” is a very ugly word, destroying the imagination.

I submit to you that “should” is equally ugly, if not more so.

Should do this. Should do that. Shouldn’t feel this. Shouldn’t think that.

We live in a world in which law and obligation are both necessary. Given our inherently selfish and sinful natures, we need boundaries. We need to know that it’s not okay to do whatever we want, whenever we want. Parents teach their children not to hit each other, to share toys, to clear the table. A sense of right and wrong, of duty and compassion, is important.

But all that can get twisted. Law and obligation become the focus, drowning out grace and joy. The “should” eclipses the “get to,” the “privileged to” and the “want to.” (For not every “want to” is bad). The spine curves under such a burden. The mind fills with long lists of resentment. The heart beats with bitterness.

Worst is the sense of guilt. The knowing that, no matter how hard one tries, there’s always another “should.” Another thing undone. Unsaid. Imperfect. The soul trembles, fearing to turn around and find that God Himself is the source of the guilt, the condemnation. So onward. Forward. Hoping to outrun, outperform.

A world made of “should” is an ugly one indeed and not at all what God intended. The law and the obligation are based in love, not striving. We are to serve and do and go out of affection for God, an affection that spills over onto others. We can’t be all things to all people at all times and do everything. It’s impossible. The task is only that which is in front of us, right now, in this moment.

Let us learn to replace “should” with “will” or “will not,” as appropriate. Let us learn to be people of the “yes” and the “no.” Simple. Straightforward. Unclouded. Unhindered.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Ian Schneider

What’s Goin’ On

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Sometimes the need to write is strong but the desire to tell the story that comes, seemingly unbidden through the fingers, is lacking. Need, but no want.

If I could explain that better, I would. One of those weird writer things, I suppose.

I left this blog just before Christmas, creeping back, unannounced, a few weeks ago. The sabbatical was necessary. Last Fall – I bit off more than I could chew. I got burned out. Still am burned out, in many ways.

With no pretense at a smooth segue, here’s what’s been going on the last four months:

  1. I’m back in therapy. After a five-ish year absence, I have returned to the cozy office and comfortable couch of the wise, godly woman who walked with me through some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. Again I can taste the dirt and feel the bruises that come from falling, suddenly, into the ravine. I’m on a low dose of Zoloft, the only antidepressant I can take given my liver problems, which tackles my brain’s habit of flooding itself with “fight or flight” chemicals for no dang good reason. Stops the hands from shaking and the sweat from trickling down my neck so that, with great effort, I can focus on what’s actually bothering me – not something I plan on sharing at this time.
  2. My health is very unsteady. December 2016 was golden. Great. I made it to work every day. Exercised every morning. Few aches and pains. Limited nausea. I got this little taste of what it might be like to feel “normal,” or at least as normal as it would be possible for me to feel. Then, crash. Bang. Boom. Thud. Increased migraines. Liver swelling and all the discomfort that comes with it. Insomnia. Exhaustion. Eczema that won’t go away. Yay.
  3. I have doubted my ability and calling to write. Not looking for you to soothe my ego here. I’ve been doing this for nine years. I failed, miserably, at getting a book traditionally published. A huge part of me wonders if I’m making any difference when there seems to be no progress or measurable impact…
  4. …but then I see all the straight-up bad “teaching” out there. And I feel compelled.
  5. Still, I find myself with big questions. What does God want of me? What is my purpose?
  6. That book nobody wanted? I published it myself. It’s titled The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. (You can click on the image to the right of this post and check it out over on Amazon. No pressure to buy). This book isn’t a long rant against people who are into alternative medicine. I know and love many who are. Disagree with them, but love them. Rather, this book tackles the question, “What does the Bible actually say about medicine, illness and suffering?” Not a medical textbook. Not expert testimony. It is a very broad commentary laced with snippets of my own experience.
  7. In continuing writing, I must come to terms with the fact that I don’t “do it” in a way that is readily embraced by today’s celebrity-obsessed and often-shallow Christian culture. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Church. I love Christians. But how many Amish fiction series do we need? How many books about the Nahum diet? (That doesn’t exist).
  8. Cleaning up my online life. Oh, the things I “liked” and “tweeted” years ago. Embarrassing.
  9. Small group drawing to a close. Normally, I am against groups taking a break for the summer. It’s so easy to fall out of good study habits. This year…did I mention that I’m burned out? We’ve been meeting for two years. I love these people. But I need a nap. A long one.
  10. Church changes. Our pastor left in October. As one who thrives in routine, the resulting shifts have been interesting some days, highly difficult others. Things have smoothed out recently.
  11. Drawing away from social media. I’m all for fun. For memes. For photos. Right now, I simply have a desire to share only what’s worthwhile and participate in conversations that mean something.
  12. Near-paranoia regarding Bible teachers. I am the last person who’s going to claim perfection. I don’t know everything. I want to learn from solid, wise, orthodox, godly people. But, boy, the amount of concerning statements and associations lately… My innate cynicism and suspicion has, to use a culturally favored pair of words, been triggered.
  13. Miscellaneous. Afternoon coffee. Avocados. New study Bible. Snoring dogs who look so handsome after going to the beauty shop. Trying recipes from The Great British Bake-Off.

So, there’s your wide-lens view of this blogger’s life. Still seeking to slay the dragons of anxiety and depression. Still sarcastic. Still longing to know and love the Lord better each day.

Now with 50% less dog fur covering her shirts.

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Photo credit: Beata Ratuszniak