One of the lessons I hope we're all learning this week is that Christians must consider what we say before we say it, remembering that we represent Christ with every word. That includes the remarks we planned to make and those we said in jest, or our joking, sarcastic, "you know I didn't mean that" side comments. If you are in Christ then everything you say bears witness either authentically to or against Him. That's one take away from the controversy now roiling the Southern Baptist Convention.
And while I understand the motivation of thousands of women in the denomination to call for the resignation of Paige Patterson, I am not signing the letter. I do not know him, I'm not in a position to follow the Matthew 18 mandate, and I do not believe that the resignation of one individual gets to the root of the issue. What we need is a national, faith-wide conversation about God's image-bearers and relations among us. While removing one prominent pastor might create a sense of empowerment, it will not change a culture rife with jesting about women's appearances, awkwardness at leadership levels when women are in the room, and gross misunderstandings about Biblical submission.
Men and women who know how to engage in civil conversation at the leadership level need to model how to talk about the household rules of Galatians 3 and Ephesians 5, the treatment of people within the household of faith and the treatment of people within our own households. Yes, we need sermons on the subject, but we need conversational apologetics and credible witnesses in redeemed marriages to bear public witness. We need to talk about how we talk about one another and marriage and sex. We need to deal with objectification and pornography. We need to deal with issues of authority and submission and we need to talk about the things we all talk about all the time just NOT in the company of one another.
I resonate with much of what Beth Moore articulated in her open letter to our brothers. I also appreciate that there are times I prefer to process through things with women and not men. I believe we stand at a moment in time when the Church has the opportunity to lead in the cultural conversations of the day related to reconciliation and #MeToo but in order to do so, we'll have to get our own house in order.
Three things must be said here:
1. Abuse is always wrong. Abuse of all forms is always contrary to the character and witness of Christ. All abuse: domestic, spousal and physical abuse, verbal abuse which objectifies another or robs them of their dignity as a fellow image-bearer of God, and, yes, the abuse of positional power, have no place among God's household. Church leaders bear an obligation for the people whom God has entrusted to their care and church leaders are legally obligated to report abuse to law enforcement. There's really no room for debate about these things.
2. Biblical submission is an issue of authority and neither of those words is popular in the culture today. God's authority over all of life, including marriage, is important for us to redeem in the cultural conversations of our day. But biblical authority and biblical submission in marriage are badly misunderstood because they have been so poorly represented by the church. Let's be crystal clear: Biblical submission is not all women to all men nor all children to all adults. Biblical submission is also never forced submission. Part of the calling of Christians today is to redeem marriage and to do that we'll need to resubmit ourselves to God's authority and His revealed will.
3. This is a critical moment for the ministry and witness of the nation's largest Protestant denomination and we should all pray for the moment to be one of redemption and not fracture.
While I'm not signing the letter, I am seeking to make a contribution to the conversation.
Whenever a church body leads the headline news, Christians must be prepared to enter into those conversations, bringing the mind of Christ to bear on the matters of our day. So, as you read these articles, ask yourself, "What has God said about these things? What do I know about God and God's Word that could be brought to bear in this conversation? Where's the opportunity for redemptive witness?"
- Letter from Southern Baptist women to the SWBS Trustees
- Statement from the SWBS Trustees
- Coverage in The Baptist Press
- Coverage in The Atlantic
- Coverage in The Washington Post
- Four misconceptions about responding to spousal abuse
All of this (and our pastor's sermon on Sunday) has led to deep conversations in my own home. Jim and I just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. I was an "old" first-time bride at 42 but I also knew that I was a mature Christian entering into a marriage with a mature Christian with whom I was committed to redeeming marriage.
Marriage is not what the world imagines. Christian marriage isn't just different in quality, it's different in origin, substance, and purpose. God intends that the here-and-now marriage we experience on Earth would point to the eternal unchangeable reality of Christ and His bride, the Church, in Heaven. Without a right understanding of the eternal redemptive plan of God, you cannot understand what God intends for marriage. That truth runs contrary to the "marriage is for my happiness and fulfillment" idolatry of this generation.
Marriage, by God's design, includes the complimentary male and female, husband and wife. And even as The Episcopal Church takes action to remove that language from the liturgy, there is no removing the eternal reality that Jesus Christ came in the flesh as a man, is described in the Scriptures as the Bridegroom and the Church in the feminine, bride.
The Genesis language of helper lingers and the Biblical call to submission persists. Denying it does not make it vanish from the pages of God's revealed Word nor does defying it change His will. So, what is submission as understood in Galatians 3 and Ephesians 5? It is a mutual submission to Christ and an ordering of the Christian household under the governance of God's sovereignty. In order to understand the household rules of Galatians 3 and Ephesians 5 we must first be people who are "in Christ." Apart from Christ, none of this will make any sense. Which is why every time we talk about submission, those operating out of an anti-patriarchal feminist worldview react loudly.
There is an honest disconnect on this subject. Christians need to reconnect the eternal with the everyday on this subject by speaking truthfully and without shame about what it means to be a woman authentically created in the image of God, in all humility. We need to begin allowing people to see into our redeemed marriages in order that they might know what we're talking about when say "Biblical submission." The idea of joyful or mutual submission is totally foreign nonsense to the world today and yet it is the reality in which some of us are privileged to live. How might the conversation change if we bore witness to redeemed marriage by exposing our own redemptive experiences of marriage?
Galatians 3 and Ephesians 5 are talking about ALL THINGS in submission to Christ.
ALL aspects of life under His Lordship.
ALL things governed by His Kingdom principles.
You cannot conveniently extract marriage from God's sovereignty and say to Him, "Nope, this is mine – marriage is mine to define, mine to enter into, mine to leave, mine to govern." That may be the way it's working in contemporary America but we can all agree that's not actually working. What works is God's design, God's governance, God's household rules.
Jim and I got married with a sense that God was calling us to redeem marriage for his kids – and for him. This is my first marriage, we've been married 7 years. Four of our six kids are grown, adding two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren to what is nothing short of a tribe. We're also still actively raising two teenagers. If you're doing the math, you know that other women bore these children into the world. Our family tree is terribly complex. Step-parenting is hard and blending challenging but God is good at it! For centuries God has been adopting people into His family, engrafting wild shoots and foreign branches into His family tree.
What does redeeming marriage look like after a spouse and parent follows the counsel of the sexual revolutionaries and leaves their spouse and children? What does redeeming marriage look like for the man after God's own heart who has been betrayed twice and yet feels called to marriage? What does redeeming marriage look like to his children who experience their father as a faithful teacher of the Bible but whom the church considers to have committed the unforgivable sin of divorce? In 21st century America, redeeming marriage includes testimonies of brokenness, confession of sin and co-parenting with people once considered enemies.
Let's be clear, God hates divorce. No question about it. But it is not beyond God's redemptive power. God redeems. Marriage can be, and is for us, a redemptive experience and an expression of God's redemptive power over the most painful of human experiences.
Jim and I do not have a perfect marriage but that's only because we both continue to be imperfect people. What we have is a mutually-submitted marriage in which we seek to bear authentic witness to Christ and give a world desperately confused about authority and Lordship a glimpse of God's goodness and grace.
Will all of this be misunderstood and likely misrepresented when repeated? Yes. (I can actually see some of you rolling your eyes as you read.) So, to you let me simply say: I have a redeemed relationship with God through Jesus Christ and that changes everything. It changes my understanding of myself, my calling, my usefulness, my legacy, and yes, my marriage.
I have the marriage I would wish for every women in the world. I am married to a man who is desperately in love with God, to whom I am a distant second and yet a man who would lay down his life for me without hesitation. He builds me up, encourages me in my discipleship, and is my greatest fan.
In case you're wondering, "Is she really not signing the letter because her husband told her not to?" No, that's now how it works. I'm not signing the letter because I have more to say than my signature on the letter would communicate. I want my denomination and every other expression of the Church in this generation to have the hard conversations which lead to transformation. The Church has a Savior and a Head and a Bridegroom. Let's sit together with Him and allow Him to redeem.