“Should I stay or should I go?” Schism in the church.

Writer, speaker, and theologian Tony Jones (of whom I am a big fan) set off a good amount of debate on blogs, twitter, and the cyber tubes recently with his post “It’s Time for a Schism Regarding Women in the Church.” In the piece, Jones calls attention the repeated and institutional inequality of women. I really recommend you read the piece. No matter where you fall on the issue, and on Tony’s prescription, it is an important issue that we need to talk about.

Before we start, lets set the tone with a little punk rock soundtrack from The Clash.

Should I stay or should I go?

In Tony’s piece, he lays out the call pretty simply and I agree with him (mostly. But we will get to that soon) He says,

“The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:

  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.”

I agree with Tony on the specifics of these issues. That women are equal, and that God calls them equally. I believe that silencing women is silencing God and that by doing so you reduce the avenues by which God speaks to you. Any church that limits women limits the voice of God. You should leave for how they are treating women (and therefore probably others) as well as the resulting lack your church is experiencing. Also, don’t play the semantic game and claim women who are children’s directors! A good friend of mine’s mother worked for a church as the Children’s Director while all the men were pastors, as if they had found some theological loophole. Nadia Bolz-Weber has a great section on this in her book, Pastrix. 

Women were not allowed to serve as elders, preachers, or ushers. For some reason, we didn’t have the authority to pass a man the collection plate, but we did have the authority to pass the same man a plate of fried chicken and potato salad an hour later at the church potluck.

Right, it is ridiculous. I know you aren’t all misogynists or woman haters, we can’t all be Mark Driscoll or Calvin or The Little Rascals.


For a basic argument in favor of equality, read here: The Basics of Biblical Equality.  I will sum up my argument with just one quote and we can move on. Galatians 3:

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (italics are mine).

So yes, Tony and Zach and Sarah and Dianna and all the other involved in our twitter discussion today, I agree. Women need to be equal and we are getting close to the time when we need to say, “enough is enough!” We need to stop equivocating or create hierarchies that put a woman’s issue of equality lower down the totem pole of negotiables. 

In the spirit of dialogue, I asked a bunch of questions on twitter today. I won’t post them all here but you can check them out if you are so inclined.  One of my questions, and I really want to know, is…Should I stay or should I go? Meaning, does a mass exodus from the church really accomplish what we need or does it just create the same thing that we already have? I think we currently have an issue where some folks don’t include women (or LGBTQ, minorities, disabled, and other brothers and sisters) and if we schism and move on we will still have a new group of us and an old group of them. Does leaving accomplish what we want? And what do we want? Is our goal to have our churches embracing equality or all churches embracing equality? In my opinion, a schism doesn’t truly solve the problem is just makes it easier for either group to point a finger while one groups pats themselves (rightfully so) on their equality and point the finger (rightfully) at the complementarians. But at the end of the day, we still have two groups and women are still not equal.

Here are some of my ideas:

1) What we do need is some folks to stick around and step into the churches that block and silence women. We need to f#$% s#$t up from the inside (pardon my french, but I mean that in a punk rock way.) Check the ending of SLC Punk for an example.

“You can do a hell of a lot more damage inside the system than outside of it.” And I might believe that. What we need is folks to step up and demand their place. We need women to stand up and start teaching. We need women to take to the pulpit and preach the word. If folks leave and close their ears that is their loss. We need men to amplify the voices of women. We need men to sit and listen to God speak through women in the church. We need men to lift up their wives and daughters in prayer. We need male pastors to invite women preachers, pastors and speakers. We need women pastors to help their sisters. We need male pastors to step down from their churches and not walk out the door, but take the hand of a young girl and lead her to the microphone and demand that people listen. To me, that is a more powerful action than some of us leaving during a sermon (they will probably say, “Good riddance.” for most of us anyways).

2) We also need to be wary of the arrogance of the present. We are not the first to think of this and we are not the first to struggle. We should not commit the sin of exceptionalism and allow our bubble to define the rule. There are many churches and denominations that are doing it right and allowing for God’s voice in their community. Here are a few as endorsed by the Christians for Biblical Equality. 

American Baptist
The Anglican Communion
Assemblies of God
Church of the Brethren
Church of the Foursquare
Church of the Nazarene
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Christian Reformed Church
Disciples of Christ
Episcopal Church in the USA
Evangelical Covenant
Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America (ELCA)
Free Methodists
Mennonite Church of the USA
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)
Reformed Church in America
Salvation Army
United Methodists
Vineyard Fellowship
Worldwide Church of God

Rather than stage a mass exodus from our churches, let us stage a mass incursion into the churches that do a good job. Rather than boycott, let us support those who excel and attempt to honor. You are all welcome at my church! Boycotting often only leaves a vacuum or major institutions not even noticing. However, putting your money where your mouth is goes a lot further. I recently quit being a vegetarian for some of these reasons (not feminism but the error of boycotting). Major meat manufacturers didn’t notice if one dude like me cut out Butterballs, but a small local farm who farmed their meat sustainably and ethically would love to add 1 more. Support the things you want to see rather than avoid the things you don’t.  How can we support those churches and flock to their pews, and to listen to the voice of women (and LGBTQ and minority brothers and sisters).

Should we schism? I believe as a last resort and maybe we are there. Maybe we do not need a big dramatic gesture to make people see. But I think we can do better than leave, we can stay and we can demand voices be heard. Women, I will stand with you and gladly listen. I will pass you the microphone, let you pass me the collection plate, and demand that arrogant men treat you with equality. Forget Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, we need to embrace Liberté, Egalité, Humanité because that is where God is.

I’d love to know your thoughts.


Add yours →

  1. This is why I tend to not read folks like Jones, too inflammatory. It’s all shock and awe as far as I am concerned. Wasn’t he one of the pioneers of the emerging church movement which espoused egalitarianism but remains to this day (whatever is left of it) white, straight, male centered?

    And you’re right, schisming over women doesn’t take it far enough in my view. We should go all the way and return to Jesus’ table practices of welcoming everyone, and amplifying everyone’s voices.

    I also appreciate the other point you’re making, there are plenty of churches that are already doing this. Jones’ call comes from, this is my assumption anyways, a dislocated position. Is he apart of any particular church or tradition? Is this a dissatisfaction with his own community or the church at large. What happens if everyone in my church is pro-women, except for one person? Or what if they’re fine with a female pastor, but there are some residual patriachical issues that arise within their family life? Should we kick them out? Should we all go somewhere else? An angry axeman can never do what a skilled, discerning surgeon is capable of.

    Here’s what I think: Join a tradition, be a part of a historically extended community that is already working for justice in these issues. Be a part of the change that IS HAPPENING. Don’t be so bombastic to believe you’re the only one with the answers. Be a part of that conversation, learn from those who have been in the struggle. Realize it is far more complex and challenging when real people and communities are involved. Don’t just keep trying to start something new. Join something. Show up. Be changed in the process. And yes, fight for the equality of all people with everything we’ve got.

  2. Jake,
    I agree with where you land here: the best reforming will happen from people at work on the inside.

    However, I don’t think it’s helpful to even point out where Tony gets it right in his argument. For much of his readership, the acknowledgment of gender inequality in the church is nothing new. The thing that makes his argument dangerous is that those who agree so matter-of-factly with his first point may jump right on board with his next.

    We who believe that change can happen without schism need to speak clearly against it if we hope to keep our most passionate voices for change in the places where they can make the biggest impact.

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