Saturday, September 13, 2008

Trying to Think Clearly

Having put it off long enough, in the next post I will begin my three part series regarding the recent (non)decision regarding women in ministry at the General Assembly of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada.

If you are not a part of the C&MA, it may be somewhat irrelevant to you, but I do welcome any perspectives "from outside." If you are a part of the C&MA, however, I would especially like to hear from you. I am trying to decide how to address my denomination, and since I have already written letters to our Board of Directors previous to Assembly I am wondering what might be a more effective way of addressing this. So I am using this forum to hone my thoughts, and maybe spread those thoughts a bit too.

At times it may read like an "open letter," because I am considering writing something of that nature to email around. I don't know. I welcome input on that. (There was a facebook group that started up but I'm the only one who has made a comment.)

So yeah, feel free to interact. But for my own benefit I need to ask us all to be gracious. I can get pretty riled up about this issue and I need you to help me keep this from being a massive mud-slinging. I do speak out of a committed love for this denomination which I have been in my whole life. I do not want to leave it. That is why I am taking this so seriously. But before I get to it (sometime next week), here are a few quotes I came across this week while researching for my phd applications. I found them to be good reminders of how to think well within the faith.

"Research is not a defense or apology of my own convictions. . . . Research seeks truth; it does not hide---for any reason---what may disagree with esteemed ideas. If the position being maintained is tenable, research can defend it; if the position is not based on truth, it is defended in vain. We cannot allow ourselves to use unsound arguments, even for a good cause. Likewise, research is not polemical. Its objective is to clearly present truth, not to fight others' positions, even if those may be erroneous." - Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Quality Research Papers for Students of Religion and Theology, p. 5.

Now, obviously blogging is not quite the same as research (it is more conversational and often does involve defense of one's own convictions), but I am still challenged greatly by the principles put forward in these lines. Another important reminder comes to me from the example of Colin Gunton, in the introduction to his important book, The One, the Three and the Many:

"For all its unifying vision, the era of Christendom was dearly bought . . . at the expense of certain dimensions of the Christian gospel which became effectively submerged. But in reacting against Christendom, the modern world has bequeathed equal and opposite distortions of human being in the world. It is for this reason that I am attempting in the book neither to react against modernity nor slavishly to follow its lead.

Modernity is like all cultures, in being in need of the healing light of the gospel of the Son of God, made incarnate by the Holy Spirit for the perfecting of the creation. But it is unlike some in that the distinctive features of its plight derive from its rejection of that gospel, albeit for some understandable reasons. The gospel will therefore not be served by the mere denunciation of modern rejection, but by probing how it came to happen. Christianity is indeed offensive to the natural human mind; and yet it is often made offensive by its representatives for the wrong reasons."

I think the conversation that needs to take place in the C&MA in Canada has an importance that falls in line with what Gunton was trying to do, and thus needs to find some of the perspective that he and Vhymeister offer. I do not wish to overstate things, but I think this is a potential turning point in the history of the C&MA, and I feel that both the process and the outcome of this debate each in their own way sit at crossroads that could lead either to dire straits or exciting horizons.

As a member of the C&MA I can not simply sit by and leave this to fate. Too many of us have done so in the past, simply biding our time until we inherit the positions of leadership that will eventually come our way. But if we continue to do this we may not have a denomination worth inheriting. That sounds polemical, but that is an expression of what I feel is at stake here. Let's not beat around the bush here. This is what they like to call "Kingdom business."


Colin Toffelmire said...


You and I are in complete agreement on this subject, as well as on its importance. I'm not as invested as you are in the CMA response if for no other reason than that I have not been worshiping in a CMA church since my time in Regina. That being said I agree that for those who wish to remain within the CMA family this issue must be discussed honestly and openly.

What troubles me most about the reports that I heard from General Assembly is not the (non)decision itself but the fact that honest and open discussion and debate were stifled by political maneuvering. That in and of itself speaks to the beliefs and attitudes of some of those who work to maintain the current situation.

I also agree strongly that those of our generation in the CMA cannot remain silent or await "positions of leadership" in order to press for change. This has been a failing of those of us who see ourselves as a youthful minority within the CMA. We have allowed ourselves to be despised for our youth for too long.

Cheryl Schatz said...

I am not part of the C&MA but I have attended services in this denomination in the past in looking for a new church. We did enjoy our worship together with the congregations.

I don't know if you meant your article to be this way, but I wasn't completely sure what your stand is. Are you waiting for the next serious of articles to reveal whether you are passionately fighting for or against women in ministry?

Trev said...

It would seem that seperate denominations fight these battles at different times. The Mennonites began this fight a few years ago on a grand scale and simply resolved to allow churches to make up their own minds independent of the greater corporation.

So what is your position Jon? You're current stance comes off as a bit esoteric, although it would seem that you're leaning towards "women in ministry".

How can one even take a biblical standpoint of Women NOT being permitted in the first place? Because Paul addressed a church (Thessalonica?) about women staying silent? Although I'm pretty sure the context of the preceeding scripture was calling people to stop gossiping.

Jon, at the risk of sounding like an anarchist or nihlist; why hold a particular alleigence to any denomination?

I've always perceived denominations as a way of saying "we all believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God, but it's the details that make us unique and set apart from the rest."

jon said...

yeah, i'm sorry, i thought i made it clear that my specific comments were forthcoming.

i don't konw if there is a reason to "hold a particular allegiance to any denomination" except for the value to be found in sticking with the one you are in. this is the one i was born in. i think it has a lot of things going for it, but i have also wanted to leave many times as well. but as should become clear as i go here, i think that sticking with your community of faith is crucial, especially when you disagree. we are to be the ambassadors of reconciliation. how do we do that by cutting and running when there is a conflict?

but i'm getting ahead of myself. a lot of this comes down to how i understand the gospel and the kingdom of Christ. i see community and reconciliation as key. i don't see how we servce Christ by avoiding that.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Hi Jon,

You said: "i see community and reconciliation as key. i don't see how we servce Christ by avoiding that."

What a wonderful attitude you have! There are so many who run at the sound of conflict instead of using it as a way to grow in the spiritual gifts (especially patience!)

We serve Christ by serving others. When we get down under our brothers and sisters in Christ and with our gifts we lift them up, we do a tremendous service to Christ himself because it is his body.

Thanks for displaying such a godly Christian attitude! Since I have publicly been called a heretic merely for believing and teaching that according to scripture taken in its full context, women are allowed to use their God-given gifts for the benefit of men and with the authority of 1 Peter 4:10, 11, it is so refreshing to hear you say these kind words. Others are willing to call into question ones salvation for disagreeing on a second issue of faith. What a sad day when the body of Christ turns on itself and rips at the sheep.

Tara said...

well... I was present during the non-decision and it hurt my heart. I felt it was a dismissal and I agree that this is a conversation that NEEDS to happen.

I am passionately FOR women in ministry but that does not mean I am incapable of hearing and understanding the opposite view. In fact I have studied both sides at great length and see legitimacy to both arguments.

I have often wondered how Godly people who are TRULY seeking to honour Christ can come to such completely opposite views. I just don't get it, although I really believe that is the case in our denomination right now. And in a misguided effort to avoid division there is an embracing of avoidance. But this is not wise.

I feel like our (C&MA) refusal to hash out this issue is hindering our ability to grow as a denomination (or Christian community).

Personally I do not function well under "Robert's Rules of Order" and the non-decision was made before I could even fully process what was happening!

And as a side point I think I feel compelled to stick with the Alliance not because our denomination is somehow better than the others but simply because this is where I have built community. It is where I have invested a LOT of myself. It has become like a family and unless God calls us to another denomination I feel I MUST strive to help the Alliance become all God intends it to be- however small my part may be.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to comment on this one, but know that I'm excited to read what you've got - and to interact with those who will also be reading it. If there's anything I can do to help out in the process (besides dialoguing) let me know.

As for your closing paragraph, it brought to mind a paper I read by Stephen Elliott (the other guy who ran for president at Assembly). If you haven't read it yet, do so when you get the time. Here's a link:

jon said...

jonathan: I think I read that vision paper of his. I thought it was good.

tara: didn't we successfully win a debate against women as elders when we were paired up to defend that side in a class once?

Tara said...

yes Jon, we did :)