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

 

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It’s Not About Us

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

My second post after the hiatus.

Might as well get controversial.

This article is making the rounds. I’ve read it. More than once. Pondered the words. Considered the meaning behind and in the words. I’m doing that stereotypical INTJ thing of staring off into space, a blank expression (or an intense one, depending on your interpretation) on my face. Seeking to fit the piece into the larger, often confounding pattern that is Western Christianity.

Jen Hatmaker and I parted ways a long time ago. (You can read all about it in my review of her book For the Love, here and here). When she announced her affirmation of homosexual relationships as holy, I shrugged. Saw that one coming a mile away.

This here post today isn’t even about that, though, and that’s not even the primary or only reason why I generally choose to avoid partaking of her work. More important for me is her view and usage of Scripture and all that means in terms of theology and doctrine. For the record, I agree with Hatmaker when she points out that the Church has done an incredibly poor job of reaching out to LGBTQIA people. I am weary of the vilification and done with the idea that “their” sins are somehow “worse” than “ours.” I have friends within the LGBTQIA community (I know, people often say that, but it’s true) and I know how deeply alienating the nastiness is for them.

But, again, this post isn’t about that issue at all. (Nor is this post about the insanity that was the 2016 election and the part that Christians played in the circus, which she references and about which we are also in agreement).

This is about Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter.

Jesus. The Cross.

What it all means.

Hatmaker writes (emphasis hers),

I get the death part this year, the Good Friday part. All the memes and quips and quotes floating around the internet are falling on a numb heart. This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. …

…this year, it all makes sense: the death, the anger, the man who never took his place in the machine. This day was lonely for Jesus. It was excruciating, physically and emotionally and spiritually. His people left him, even turned on him. God Himself hid his eyes. The sky went dark and life was extinguished. It was all so sad, so dead, so not yet resurrected. This was a day of tears and shock and loss and fear. …

…for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a “Good” in front of it.

Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?

I won’t deny Hatmaker or anyone else her pain and struggles. I don’t know what, exactly, life has been like for her since coming out on the “wrong side of religion.” I’m sure there have been very hard days. I’m sure that people have been incredibly mean, which is never right, no matter how strong the disagreement. I don’t doubt that she’s experienced confusion and heartbreak. (At the same time – and again this is where my INTJness reveals itself – I do wonder at the strength of a person’s convictions if they can be so shaken by negative responses. But that’s me; I don’t operate out of the heart).

But to identify with Jesus on the Cross?

That’s a step too far.

See, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s not about is.

Obviously our salvation is completely and utterly wrapped up in Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished. His death and resurrection was the plan – is the plan – the only way for us to be reconciled to and with God. Yet the story of those three days, indeed the entire narrative arc of Scripture, isn’t about us. We aren’t the central characters. It’s not a tale of humanity reaching out to God, but rather God reaching out to humanity. He is the mover, the shaker, the narrator, the director, the star. (This coming from an avowed Arminian. May my Calvinist brethren rejoice).

That crown of thorns, that flesh whipped to ribbons, those nails, that cross, the agonizing breaths and sputtered words, the blood-soaked linen perfumed with spices, that still and silent and dark tomb – we can’t identify with that. We cannot say, “Yes, I have experienced something akin to this. I understand.” Whatever pain or sorrow we experience is nothing compared to Christ, the God-Man, choosing to set aside His rightful glory. It is nothing compared to the suffering He experienced. Certainly we cannot even begin to imagine what it meant, how it felt, for Him to literally become sin.

Sin. Not loneliness, not abandonment, not suffering, not being rejected by the cool kids. Loneliness, abandonment and rejection are all results of sin, sure, but they aren’t the reason Jesus hung, suspended by hot, sticky metal pounded through His muscle and out the other side onto rough wood.

In no way am I accusing Hatmaker of equating herself with Jesus, nor am I commenting on her status before God. Not at all. Rather I am stating that Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s about Jesus. MaryMary sings in Something Big, “Jesus bled, Jesus died, Jesus took the fall – for all your wrong and all my wrong, Jesus paid it all.” As we reflect upon these events, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that they are meant to comfort us in sorrow.

They are meant to confront us with the heinous nature of our sin and drive us to our knees in reverence.

Let’s not cheapen the Atonement.

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Addendum: I realize that many, perhaps even most, will believe that I have read something into the words that aren’t there. I admit that the twist in perspective I find here is subtle, but it is nevertheless present. As always, you, dear reader, are quite free to disagree.

Photo credit: IV Horton

Review: For the Love, Part 2

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

For the Love: Part 1

Gentle Reader,

This is the part that I didn’t want to write. Allow me to repeat myself: The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece.

Nevertheless I am well aware that what I’m about to publish is going to generate some heat.

QUESTIONS

I wish that I had saved it so that I could give you a specific date, but sometime between Tuesday, July 7, and Friday, July 10, I received an email from Hatmaker (along with other members of her “Email Friends” list). She wrote to tell us about the free goodies we could get with pre-ordering a copy of For the Love. (As part of the launch team, I expected this and wasn’t offended. The point, after all, is to generate buzz and sell books). In the first paragraph of this email (again, I wish I had saved it so I could quote directly) she mentioned being influenced in her spirituality by the fiction work of Sue Monk Kidd.

Update, 8/27/15: A friend had this email and forwarded it to me. It was sent out on July 10, and the line that I referenced above reads, “…I want to know if Sue Monk Kidd read the tweets I sent about how much her storylines affected me spiritually.”

At first, I wasn’t even going to pursue this. I didn’t want to pursue this. I wanted to write a short-and-sweet, stellar review. So I deleted the email.

But I only know of one Sue Monk Kidd:

To embrace Goddess is simply to discover the Divine in yourself as powerfully and vividly feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 141)

… something inside me was calling on the Goddess of the Dark, even though I didn’t know her name. (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 93)

I remember a feeling rising up from a place about two inches below my navel. … It was the purest inner knowing I had experienced, and it was shouting in me no, no, no! The ultimate authority of my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book. It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself. My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period. … That day sitting in church, I believed the voice in my belly. … The voice in my belly was the voice of the wise old woman. It was my female soul talking. And it had challenged the assumption that the Baptist Church would get me where I needed to go. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 76-78)

I knew right then and there that the patriarchal church was no longer working for me. The exclusive image of God as heavenly Father wasn’t working, either. I needed a Power of Being that was also feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 80)

There’s a bulb of truth buried in the human soul that’s “only God” … the soul is more than something to win or save. It’s the seat and repository of the inner Divine, the God-image, the truest part of us. (When the Heart Waits, p. 47, 48)

When we encounter another person … we should walk as if we were upon holy ground. We should respond as if God dwells there. (God’s Joyful Surprise, p. 233)

I ran my finger around the rim of the circle on the page and prayed my first prayer to a Divine Feminine presence. I said, “Mothergod, I have nothing to hold me. No place to be, inside or out. I need to find a container of support, a space where my journey can unfold. (Dance of the Dissent Daughter, p. 94)

Divine Feminine love came, wiping out all my puny ideas about love in one driving sweep. Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, “I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 136)

I came to know myself as an embodiment of Goddess. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 163)

When I woke, my thought was that I was finally being reunited with the snake in myself – that lost and defiled symbol of feminine instinct. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 107)

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am an egalitarian. I believe in the full equality of men and women. Yet I also believe in the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. God chose to reveal Himself in masculine terms. This doesn’t mean that He is masculine; God is transcendent. He is in a category all by Himself and cannot be classified as man or woman. Nevertheless, He chose to relate to us as Father, Son and Spirit. Christian faith simply does not support worshiping the “feminine divine” or the “goddess.” This does not demean women or relegate them to a “second class” space. Men have done that, not God.

I have no idea what Hatmaker means by saying that she’s been influenced by Kidd. I attempted to reach out to her via Facebook and through her website’s contact page, asking for clarification. I have yet to receive an answer. At this point I am not making any hard-and-fast judgments. She could simply mean that something in one of Kidd’s novels touched her. I am unwilling to come to a solid conclusion until I have more information.

Still, this leaves me in an awkward position, especially since my endorsement appears in the book.

Reading through For the Love a second time, with this in mind, I noticed something: Quotes from authors Annie Dillard, Anna Quindlen and Brene Brown are sprinkled throughout. The framework, the worldview, from within which these authors write shows strong threads of panentheism, pop-psychology self-help and a mish-mash of New Age-y, maybe Christian terms that I can make heads nor tails of. I have no problem recognizing the fact that they may well have good and positive things to say, but, as with Kidd, the spiritual content of their works is concerning.

Do not interpret this as an attack on Jen Hatmaker. I don’t know her personally and I don’t wish her any ill. I’m not making a call on whether or not she’s saved, so please don’t go there. I will happily update this post if I receive clarification regarding the statement about Kidd. I can easily accept that she used the quotes from the other authors for very good reasons. As of now, I am left holding a mixed bag. If this were strictly a work of humor, I would have no problem giving it five stars. Due to the muddied nature of the spiritual currents, I cannot give this book the wholehearted recommendation that I initially hoped.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, where does that leave us? I won’t slap For the Love out of your hands if I see you reading it, but I won’t tell you to rush out and snag a copy, either. I think you can read this book and enjoy it for its message of freedom for women and its humor, but I do encourage you to keep this background information in the forefront of your mind. Be aware of what you are taking in and examine it closely. Ask the Holy Spirit to grant you guidance and sensitivity in this and all reading selections.

Do so for your sanity. Do it for your integrity.

Do it for His love.

This, above all, is the lesson I have learned in being on the launch team.

My journey to faith. (15)

Review, For the Love, Part 1

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Gentle Reader,

The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece, and the one that follows.

SETTING THE STAGE

When a friend of mine mentioned in early spring that Jen Hatmaker was taking applications for her book launch team, my interest was piqued. I’d never done anything like that. I knew a little about Hatmaker, having heard her speak at different venues a couple of times and through some of her writing, mostly online stuff. Nothing of hers that I’d been exposed to was “out there.”

Mostly, she was funny – and I always appreciate good, clean humor. So I thought, “Why not? I’ll apply.” I didn’t really expect to be chosen. (I also never expected that my brief endorsement would appear in the front of the published book).

Color me surprised when the email arrived in my inbox. Given a link to a pdf download, I began to read.

On my smartphone.

I know.

I betrayed my own non-ebook supporting principles.

THE GOOD

Jen Hatmaker is a warm and witty woman, and that comes through loud and clear in her writing. The Jimmy Fallon-esque “Thank You Notes” sprinkled throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Chapter Four, “Fashion Concerns,” left me tears. Leggings are not pants, tights are not leggings, and tights are DEFINITELY not pants! She hits on female awkwardness and worry in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which all women need.

Chapter 10, “Surviving School,” is one that I would love to photocopy and send to all the parents I know:

They don’t need every advantage skewed their way and every discomfort fluffed with pillows. I bet they don’t even need sandwiches [shaped like] dolphins… Kiddos, make your own lunches, do your own laundry, buy your own replacement ID after you left yours on the bus. Write your teacher an apology for doing the worm across her classroom, even though Dad and I laughed our heads off. You want more clothes than we bought? Save your money. Make your own case to the teacher for a higher score. Relinquish your phone for running that mouth. Endure that class. Work for that grade. Try harder never time. Take your licks and learn from them. Put your plate in the dishwasher, for the love of Palmolive. (p. 62-63)

Chapter 21, “Poverty Tourism,” was a sobering look at the way many American Christians treat short-term missions work. The sincerity of those who take such trips is never in doubt, but it is true that we need to reconsider how we approach the work. Hatmaker writes that we need to,

…look seriously at systemic issues in that community. We [need to] learn about root causes, broken structures and societal breakdowns, such as violence and lack of subsequent justice, poverty orphans, the abuse of women and children, economic disempowerment, environmental degradation, educational disparity, maternal health, and nutrition and healthcare. We [need to] listen to local leaders on long-term sustainable solutions… (p. 145-146)

In essence, when we take the Gospel message anywhere, we need to have an understanding of the situation into which we walk. The Gospel is timeless and never needs to altered, but the way in which it is delivered and the tangible work projects that go along with it – building homes, repairing schools, putting in wells for clean water – should be determined by the particular needs of that community, not our preconceived ideas of how things should be.

THE MIDDLING

Chapter 22, “Dear Church,” and Chapter 25, “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy,” stand as yet more shots fired from within the Body, at the Body. As with all such essays, there are some valid points. No doubt we have problems. No doubt we have done ourselves no favors by entwining the Gospel with the “American Dream” and structuring our congregations as businesses.

While acknowledging the value in these chapters, I am weary of people within the Church complaining about the Church. That only contributes to its breakdown. Yes, we have issues. Absolutely. No denying it. But let’s not forget that we are the redeemed of the Lord. Let’s not forget that the Church is a good thing. If we have complaints, then we must be willing to do the work of prayer and struggle in order to come to a solution. If we are unhealthy, then we must seek the remedy.

Further, I am equally weary of seeing statistics about people leaving the Church – because I know who’s leaving. It’s my generation. It’s the fickle, entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, immature Millennials. (Yep, I said it). When we were in high school, we whined about relevance. We wanted church to be “cool.” We wanted church to “meet us.” We pushed the “seeker-friendly,” rock-show experience. Now that church leaders have bent over backwards to accommodate our whiny-ness, we leave. We say we want something “more substantial.”

Except that we don’t. We don’t study our Bibles, we don’t spend time discussing doctrine and we won’t unplug from our smartphones if our lives depended on it.

That’s not a Church problem, folks.

That’s our problem.

INITIAL CONCLUSIONS

My first impression of For the Love: A relatively light, funny book that offers women permission to be themselves. Jen Hatmaker invites her fellow females to take our places in Body life while simultaneously inviting us to step off of the hamster wheel of perfectionism. This is a message that should be oft-repeated, and loudly.

I would have liked it if Hatmaker had maintained this focus in the book and avoided making what I would term “bandwagon” comments about the state of the Church. As outlined above, it is popular at the moment to criticize the problems of the Church without recognizing the very real good of the Church. These essays felt out-of-step with the overall tone of the work.

UNSETTLED

I have battled for weeks over whether or not to type these next words. I would prefer to end this review here, as it is. I would prefer to say that I stand one-hundred percent behind my endorsement. I would prefer to tell you that you can read this book without any problems.

Yet I am unsettled, and for what I believe is good reason.

For the Love: Part 2

My journey to faith. (15)