I think every experience can provide an opportunity to learn; and the recent dialogue that took place on Jonathan Brink’s blog concerning the Origins project is no exception. (If you’re just tuning in, click these three links to catch up.)
First, let me make clear that this post is not to discuss Origins specifically; as far as I am concerned, the issue in question was resolved; I am very thankful for the action that was taken, and I support Origins’ efforts and wish them nothing but the best. Rather, it is the rest of us, the ones who participated in this discussion about the equality of women in the church–and the ones who continue to view it from a distance–who need to take a look at the bigger picture and learn from this experience.
I’m a student of human nature, so I read people’s reactions and comments with interest all the way through. And here is what I observed:
- Among the women who commented, there was nearly 100% solidarity, not just behind Jonathan’s concerns about the Origins leadership roster, but (more importantly) the deeper issues it represented. I could pick up within their remarks a strong desire for their voices to be heard and understood, as well as an appreciation for the fact that this issue was being discussed so openly.
- Among the men who commented…I found a mixed response between agreement and disagreement, maybe about 50/50. None of the men were in favor of sexism, per se; but I felt many of the responses actually tended toward deflecting the issue. Specifically, I observed examples of denial, avoidance, and even some shifting of blame. Some of the men (even among the ones who agreed with Jonathan) chose to take a more detached, philosophical approach, where the women (understandably) approached the issue more emotionally.
Allow me to summarize (and paraphrase) the gist of some of the objections raised by the men:
- Origins is inclusive of women in leadership; you have misunderstood.
- You are rushing to judgment.
- You are framing a historical narrative and unfairly pinning it on Origins.
- You have cast an unfair shadow on Origins on its opening day.
- Maybe there just happened to be no women qualified to lead, or who wanted to lead.
- Maybe the team that evolved just happened to be men, no exclusion of women intended.
- Can’t we just assume the best and give them the benefit of the doubt?
Without putting words in anyone’s mouth…at times, I have to say I almost detected a vibe that said, “Hey–you guys are GUYS! These guys are probably okay and probably aren’t sexist; why are you picking on them?”
I bring this up not to fault anyone in particular; everyone has the right to their perspective and opinion. But when a line is drawn in the sand like this, our gut reactions can really show us something about ourselves, if we are willing to look. It was actually within these types of remarks that I realized a lot of the guys weren’t fully understanding why the question was even raised. The answer, I believe, is made clear when we understand the difference between passive agreement and acting on what we say we believe.
For many years, I have supported the idea of the equality of women, and done what I felt was appropriate to live that out. But until recently, mine was a passive agreement. I thought it was enough to let women have a place, rather than going the extra step of making a place for them.
But here’s the thing, men: we live in a civilization that tends toward suppressing women by default. If we are not purposeful and intentional in overcoming that, we will inevitably lean back toward the default without meaning to. It’s like standing on a slope; if you don’t intentionally lean against the grade, gravity will take over and your own weight will take you toppling downhill as a result.
When I recently came to the realization that even women in supposedly egalitarian settings were still being overlooked and wounded, I saw the danger of my passivity. I saw that not only was I still capable of suppressing the woman, but I probably had, many times, without even realizing it. In that moment, to my dismay, I realized that because of the slope we stand on…by being passive, I was still adding to the problem.
My passivity WAS sexism. It had just taken a more subtle form.
I knew in that moment I could no longer settle for being merely in passive agreement.
And neither can any man who truly wants to be part of the solution.
Here’s why I say all this: I believe that this entire incident–from the mis-step at Origins itself to the mixed reactions to Jonathan’s raising of the question–has revealed a deeper issue, particularly among the guys, that we must not ignore. Because the common thread running through all of it is…passivity.
I firmly believe nobody at Origins meant to create a stir by the initial depiction of their leadership; all they wanted to do was stir the hearts of people toward mission and engage them in the project. It was just that they did not see (at first) the potential for wounding in the way they depicted their leadership. And even after Jonathan raised the issue…many of the men involved in the discussion did not really see what all the fuss was about.
That is the key we must not miss: many men did not see it. Not seeing is the tell-tale sign that we have defaulted to the passive approach. Not seeing is what causes us to step on our sisters and add to their wound without even knowing what we did.
And guys: Not seeing is not an excuse.
I cannot stress this enough: when it comes to the men’s response to this issue…passivity IS sexism.
The slope leans too far in one direction, and if you aren’t purposefully being part of the solution, you will be part of the problem. There is no neutral ground on a slanting slope. You will lean one way or the other. It just can’t be helped.
This, my friends, is why this wasn’t a case of nitpicking; the issue needed to be raised–because overlooking it is passivity, and passivity is sexism by default. This isn’t about political correctness; our sisters deserve for us to see them, to see their wound, and take action to heal that wound. There is great treasure God has placed within them, and they need their brothers to stand with them, not passively, but on purpose.
To commend Origins once again…when they saw it, passivity went away; they took action. With one very simple move, they immediately transferred from adding to the problem to being part of the solution. Kudos to them.
This is the lesson I truly hope we can take away from this experience. May what has transpired these past few days move us from passivity to an active response. May God give us men the eyes to see, and the feet to act. May we be convicted and inspired to see our sisters, honor them, make room for them, and defend them when necessary.
They are worth it, after all.