Giving Up or Growing Up?: Some Thoughts on Church
Some might call it resignation or failure; I prefer to see it as maturity.
In a recent conversation with a seminary friend, we both expressed how tired we were with churches that continue to give lip service to being welcoming and inclusive of the gifts of all, but which in reality never seem to actually do anything. The conversation was specifically about women in ministry. Both of us have spent years in Christian circles that are still uneasy accepting women as equal participants in the work of the church. In theory they might say it’s okay for women to preach or be ordained and perhaps they might even speak out against the groups that obviously restrict women, but when it comes down to the practical reality of it all, women are never allowed any real voice. So we’ve served as advocates, trying to bring attention to the voices of women, encouraging leaders to open their eyes to their latent sexism, and hoping we can be a source of change from within the realms we participate in. And yet have seen little change.
I admitted in that conversation though that I was tired of that role. How long was I willing to stay within a broken system helping it slowing become more of a life-giving place of welcome when in reality all I was doing was lending a little extra life-support to a system that doesn’t appear to be getting better. So I mused that sometimes we just have to let things simply die off so that that which is healthy has room to thrive.
Hence why some may accuse me of giving up on the church as we know it.
I prefer to think I’m growing up.
It’s not like the church hasn’t been able to do the dignified death thing before. Yes, most change in the church is a long arduous process often plagued with schism and violence. But not always. For example -Following the ban as set forth by Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century women who were menstruating were not allowed to participate in the sacraments or approach the alter. Except for a brief challenge to this rule by Pope Gregory the Great in 597 (for did not Jesus permit the bleeding woman to touch his cloak?) this ban was near-unanimously agreed upon for most of Christian history. Although the ban naturally did not apply in anti-sacramental Protestant churches following the Reformation, it remained articulated (if not always followed) in Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic churches until the mid-twentieth century. And then it simply faded away. Most Christians these days have utterly forgotten that this ban ever existed. It died as more life-affirming practices naturally grew up to take its place.
You see, I love the idea of the church. A group of people who in gathering around a shared meal of bread and wine commit to being one body—one family devoted to the disciplines of love and forgiveness and the commitment to make the ways of the realm of God present on earth as in heaven. I will always be part of that community.
I’m just too tired to waste my energy defending structures that do harm in this world, that teach the inferiority of some, that silence the voices of others, that preach selfishness instead of compassion, that don’t bother to welcome and include all, or that care more for trappings of a building, or altar, or style of worship than they do about living as the family that calls itself the body of Christ. I’m fine with participating in the beautiful and cherishing the depth of tradition, but never when it has such high costs.
Maturity for me right now means letting go of that which needs to die and pursuing that which allows life to thrive. I need to grow up.