My friend, Tony Jones, has written a call for schism over the issue of women’s equality in the Church. He’s now decided that schism not the right word but the fact remains that we may need to separate from people who “preach a false gospel.” I’ve thought about it ever since he posted it. (Tony built bridges for this little charismatic kid to cross over into the ancient-future church through his ministry and writings over the years. I self-identified with the emerging church in my twenties and even 15 years later, I’m pretty sure I still find a home there. And one thing I know about Tony is that he often writes or posits with hyperbole to kick off the real conversation that actually needs to happen.)
So I’ve somehow written myself into a four-part series on this “schism” notion because there are parts of it that resonate with me – I would never attend a church that didn’t affirm women in full equality, for instance, and to me this is a major justice issue – and then parts the “schism” language freak me out or irritate me because I do believe with all my heart that there can be unity and redemption. Instead of having one big long post like I did with my Christian conferences magnum opus of feelings, I decided to break this one up into parts. So this is just part one. Over the next week or so, I’ll write the rest of it as I go along because I think the conversation is a worthwhile one indicative of larger conversations about unity and a new way forward.
Oh, Father, I know I’m not perfect, I know we’re not perfect, but at least we are not like those people over there.
Secret telling time: I’m part of the people over there.
It’s funny how nice a schism sounds when you’re the one who is the active participant, the one whose decree makes it so. It sounds noble and high-minded when you say that someone else is a false gospel and you are the one with the truth. I imagine that it must be nicer to be the one leaving with our convictions so strong. The rest of you sinners can think what you want, I’m just trying to follow the Bible, we say. No hard feelings.
It’s not-so-great when you’re the one who is left on the other side of the slammed door.
This is a dispatch from the other side of the schism.
If there is one thing I figured out very quickly when I was introduced to the big old American evangelical church in my twenties it is this: there wasn’t room for me.
It wasn’t just because I was a woman and an egalitarian. In my context, it was also because I was considered liberal in my politics. I liked universal healthcare, for starters. But mainly, it was because I was part of that happy-clappy branch of Christianity, born out of the fire of the renewal movement, because I was “one of those charismatics” and I spoke in tongues, four generations down from the old Pentecostal Holiness stuff as it splintered and moved through the world. The door was shut to me because my lineage of faith was, as Oral Roberts would say, “forged in the fires of healing evangelism.”
It was also because I was not-American. (We could talk about that, couldn’t we? Where is the room for those of us outside of that dominant empire narrative? My experiences with Church are pretty different because I grew up before globalization and technology homogenized our experiences. Remember our global brothers and sisters? It’s hard sometimes for the ones on the inside to remember that there might be reasons why the Pentecostal tradition is the fastest growing stream of Christianity in the world from the global south to Asia Pacific to post-Christian neighbourhoods in Canada.)
Oh, yes, I grew up charismatic and Word of Faith before I had a clue what those labels were or meant. (We just thought we were Christians now, end of story, we had no idea of our place in the big family of God. We were innocent enough to think we were all on the same team because, well, JESUS.)
And then I went out into the world and all I have heard from every other Christian out there was complete and utter disdain for me and for the people I loved, the ones whose prayer and faith had formed me, the ones who taught my Sunday school, who prayed for my parents, who discipled our little family in the faith, the one who plunged me into the water and told me to rise up as a new creature in Christ.
Part of me rails against the idea of a schism – even a decentralized postmdoern Internet schism – because I’m already hanging onto the last rung of the ladder. Don’t cut the thread to which I’m clinging. I’m already a back-alley dweller, far from the tables. It isn’t my egalitarianism or my feminism or my femininity that ostracized me from certain aspects of the Church: that ship has already sailed.
I live on the other side of the schism. I have no idea who these people are online half the time. I didn’t even learn about the existence of an organization called “The SBC” until I was nearly thirty. Lifeway? I don’t really care that they don’t like or or won’t carry my book because well, I never would have expected them to carry my book – I’m not Baptist, I never have been, I never will be (watch out now). I’m a postmodern post-evangelical post-charismatic outside of their postal code for the ones who freak out about lady-preachers in every way possible.
I’m used to being left out by now. I’m used to being the red-headed stepchild in the family of God.
Even now, people find out about my background and say, really? You aren’t what I expected. (The judgement in that kind of stings a bit, I admit.)
I did an interview a while ago and it came up that I went to one of those charismatic universities and the interviewer was plainly dismayed, even sympathetic. Oh, you poor thing, it must have been so hard for you. It’s hard to explain to people: those people you love to make fun of? those are my people. They drive me crazy, too, so trust me, I get it. But I still regard our precious mess with tenderness.
Sometimes it has felt like the one thing that unites most of the western Church is not our love for Jesus, but our disdain for the charismatic Word of Faith world.
We’ve already had a schism, you see, thousands of them. The rest of the church schismed us over and over again, we’re barely clinging to the bridge that the rest of you have set on fire.
I can’t be okay with a schism. It hurts to much to be on the other side of it.
I’ve already been schismed, thanks to John MacArthur and Hank Hanegraff, thanks to seminarians and bloggers, thanks to Internet commenters and tv preachers. I’ve already been told there isn’t room for me. Me and my people, we’re already on the other side of that door, we’re already in the back alley.
I’ve learned how to fit in among the rest of the Church now, of course. But my foot is still firmly on the other side of that schism, and I won’t turn my back on my little tradition. I won’t turn my back on the men and women who raised me to love God and to love people, even if their theology makes the rest of us uncomfortable sometimes.
(Sidenote: The people at the table could learn a lot from my tradition, particularly about the mobilizing and releasing of women for ministry.)
When my husband went to seminary outside of our tradition, he was wary. We had been so conditioned to being marginalized, so conditioned to think of ourselves as the black sheep and unwelcome at the table, that we didn’t know how it would go. People warned us continually to be on our guard as he went into higher education outside of our tradition: “careful now! you might lose your fire!” We got so used to being the outsider that we convinced ourselves we didn’t want to be there anyway.
Imagine our surprise when we were welcomed.
Maybe it’s because we’re all a bit older now. Maybe it’s because we have realised we don’t have the luxury of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Maybe it’s because they realized that they missed us or we realized that we missed them. Who knows, but it felt good to sit among people who are different than us, with different theological convictions, and listen to them say “tell me about it.” It felt good to have a talk about our differences without a zero-sum-game, without the threat of nuclear action. It felt good to move with freedom and curiosity and respect.
That bridge meant the world to me. I crossed that bridge and it brought me into a whole new world of theological learning and understanding. I was given tools to sift through my experiences as a child born into faith in Christ Jesus through the charismatic Word of Faith movements. I began to leave behind aspects of my former ways, absolutely, but I reclaimed others that I had dismissed. It changed my life, refined my theology, helped me learn how to hold the gifts of both the wisdom and traditions of the Church with the renewal fire of my own lineage of faith.
I have a group of girlfriends who mean the world to me. We represent a broad spectrum: reformed, complementarian, egalitarian, charismatic, house church, no church, baptist church, all points between. And we do love to pray for and with each other. And of course, I end up laying hands on them while I pray, even prophecying or “having a word” heaven help us, and they receive it from me even though it must be weird for them. The gift of welcoming me and receiving me – all of me, even my happy-clappy weirdness – is a mark of the depth of our friendship. And it means the world to me that they opened up that door. We break bread together, and find we’re family still, we’re healing a small schism perhaps. I have to believe that if there is room for me – all of me without editing – that there is room for them, too, and we are seeing a small bit of heaven breaking through as we respect each other, learn from one another, and mutually change.