The Church and Her Hierarchy of ExclusionThe Infamous Elder's Meeting
Excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus
One of the graces on my life is conflict resolution. I can help folks see from Greater Love’s perspective. Several years ago, I had a job that required me to use this ability almost daily. As a Family Pastor, I was often in meetings that had the potential to be heated or where difficult decisions would need to be made.
One afternoon, I received a text from our senior pastor asking me to set aside my evening and join him at our south campus to help my good friend and campus pastor, Mark Appleyard, navigate a sticky issue between a couple of his elders.
I remember calling Karen to give her a heads-up. “Hey, Babe, looks like I’ll be home late tonight. There is a meeting I’ve been asked to attend.”
“What’s it about?”
“Not sure; there’s a conflict with some of Mark’s elders.”
I have attended meetings where difficult topics were discussed—money issues, moral failing, church splits, firings, broken trust in relationships, abuses, and infidelities, and so on; but I have to admit, the issue the elders had with Mark caught me off guard.
Women in ministry!
Honestly, at first, I was almost amused by the absurdity of it. Apparently, during the Sunday service, one of the women on the worship team had prayed with authority and confidence over the microphone from the stage. In response, a couple of the elders had called a meeting.
Now, I sat dumbfounded at a table with Mark, the senior pastor, and three elders, two of whom were outraged. It wasn’t a joke. They were serious and deeply offended by the fact that Mark seemed entirely in support of women praying with confidence and authority through a microphone from any stage. Their indignant outrage was ugly; there was nothing amusing about it.
Suddenly, I became annoyed. I’d given up my evening for this religious bullshit? But I could see both the senior pastor and Mark were in earnest, so I took a deep breath, reminded myself why I’d been asked to be there—conflict resolution—and followed Mom’s childhood instruction. You know it, “If you can’t say anything nice….”
I held my tongue while Mark and the senior pastor steadily and generously challenged the two elders with Scripture highlighting women’s roles in ministry—from Miriam in Exodus and Deborah in Judges to the women who participated with Jesus in ministry. You know, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna. And Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee. And Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. (1)
Then, there was that time Jesus, God, the Creator of the Universe, was born of a woman. (2)
Then, there was another time when the resurrected Christ appeared first to a woman. (3)
I held my tongue while the two elders provided their Scriptures, to wit: “…women should be silent in the churches…for they are not permitted to speak, but should remain silent and subordinate.” (4) And, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” (5)
The two elders believed that because their thoughts were biblical, they were somehow true. Of course, they were not. Jesus was far from them. Greater Love was nowhere to be found. And their condescending, self-righteous exclusion of women from ministry was the telltale sign.
Biblically defended hierarchy is always a sign that those searching Scripture are doing so outside of cruciform love. When that happens, it’s not long before such an approach to Scripture leads to the self-righteous justification of broken and abusive systems.
I continued to hold my tongue as the conversation became more intense. Mark wasn’t backing down, and neither were the two elders.
I held my tongue as I looked around the table and realized who was not present. “Six men, including me, had gathered to determine the role of women in our church,” I thought. “Women were being excluded from this very conversation!”
I was beyond annoyed at this point, but I kept holding my tongue…
A Hierarchy Of Exclusion
I sat quietly as the two elders held stubbornly to their biblically based misogyny. They demanded surrender to their cruelly distorted biblical view around the subjugation of women. They wanted the woman who had taught from the stage, and all others, to operate according to their discriminate biblically sourced hierarchy of exclusion.
You know, if Jesus isn’t our hermeneutic, our method of interpretation, if Greater Love isn’t the lens through which we know God and ourselves, we can read the Bible and draw asinine authoritative conclusions, such as “women are less valuable than men.”
And let me be clear. That is so often the heart behind any issue of exclusion, including the exclusion of women from ministry. Exclusion is often hierarchal and dualistic. It positions people as us or them, in or out, for or against.
Exclusion is often the fruit of a retributive, or penal substitutionary atonement, view of the cross—as though the Father looked away, as though Jesus only died to save some, as though Greater Love didn’t reconcile all creation, as though what was lost in Adam wasn’t fully restored in Christ, as though at the cross there was a delineation between Jew or Gentile, black or white, lost or found, sinner or saint, gay or straight, republican or democrat, capitalist or socialist, Christian or Muslim…woman and ministry—as though there is still a veil that separates some from His all-inclusive, measurelessly reconciling love.
Let’s be clear. There is no us or them at the cross, no for or against at the cross, no in or out at the cross. God reconciled all creation at the cross. But to the extent we don’t know and embrace this Truth is to the extent we will participate in hierarchies of exclusion.
These two elders used the Bible to justify their elitist-driven exclusion—control, or subjugation, in its sexist form.
As the conversation grew increasingly tense, I continued to hold my tongue. Finally, Mark turned to me, “Jason, you’ve been quiet. Do you have any thoughts you could add?”
This is when the conflict resolution guy says something generous to create a safe environment to help everyone see the issue from Greater Love’s perspective. Hopefully, the convicting power of Holy Spirit leads the group to repent, come together, and find a resolution. And that’s precisely what I did.
“I’m sorry. I’m not wearing my bra tonight.” I responded.
A few things for clarity: First, had a woman been present, I can’t imagine I’d have given the same response. I wouldn’t have wanted to risk offense. But that was the problem. No women were at the table, just the religious older brother spirit—offense was the point.
Second, Mark and I are still good friends.
Finally, I don’t own a bra.
A brief uneasy pause ensued. Mark smiled, the senior pastor chuckled nervously, and I continued. “Guys, I feel incredibly uncomfortable discussing the role of women in ministry with five other men.”
Mark burst out laughing. He is a good leader and took the reins to clarify further. Essentially, enough was enough. We wouldn’t validate this religious farce any longer. The meeting ended with the two elders’ resignation—given and received. And to this day, Mark likes to tell the story about that time I helped him with an elders’ meeting.
1 Mark 15:40–41 & Luke 8:1–3 & Matthew 27:55–56
2 Galatians 4:4
3 John 20:11
4 1 Corinthians 14:34
5 1 Timothy 2:12