The Mean Old Church
One More Time with Kimball
I was invited to the office of one of California’s state legislators recently to discuss State Bill 777. There were about twelve of us that showed up and we went around the room and introduced ourselves. Jean, a female pastor, said that she was from—and I quote—“an open and affirming church.” To my mind any church with a female pastor is open-minded to the point that their brains have run out on the floor. Other than that, “open and affirming” tends to denote: we’re pro-homosexual. This, indeed, was the case for when we began to discuss the bill Jean was up in arms that the homosexuals were treated so poorly by the Church and that the Church was filled with homphobes.
I tell you this because Dan Kimball has a chapter in his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church entitled “The Church is Homophobic.” He opens that chapter with a statement by a girl/woman named Penny who believes that homosexuality is equivalent to having either blonde or brunette hair. Obviously, Penny was not aware at how much Yahweh despised blondes. I mean, how many blondes do you hear about in the Old Testament? There were a number of women that acted as if they were blondes from Orange County, California, who had had the necessary cosmetic surgery performed, but how uninformed and shallow can Penny and Dan be?
The chapter that precedes Dan’s “study” on how the Church oppresses women and is homophobic deals with how the Church is judgmental and negative. To demonstrate his judgmentalism and negativity he embarks on a tendentious exposé. Well, we ended last time with Dan’s friend, Erika, who beat feet out of the Church when she was a teenager because she felt that the Church focused too much on negative things. In their conversations, Erika made it clear to Dan that she doesn’t have an agenda (p. 120). Dan’s congregation is filled with unique people, one of whom is Erika who has no agenda at all. She has arrived at that perfect balance of neutrality and continues to see things well while the rest just kind of stumble along.
What follows from Dan are words like “opinions,” “sensed,” and “felt.” In other words, what follows is not based on Scripture but on what any given individual feels. Given all this feeling orientation, we should not be surprised that Dan’s congregation is dominated by ambitious women and effeminate girly men. Erika’s views are “based on what she has sensed from talking to others who grew up in the church” (p. 120. Emphasis mine.)
Alicia, who was quoted at the outset of the chapter goes on to say, “When I think of God, I think of God being both motherly and fatherly.” (Ibid.) I’ll grant that there are references in Scripture that refer to the loving side of God in anthropomorphic maternal terms. What I take exception to is the fact that neither Kimball nor Alicia (or Erika the O.C. blonde for that matter) have bothered to bring any Scripture into the discussion. Alicia is conjuring up “God” in her mind and then wonders why the Church and her “God” don’t dovetail. In Kimball’s mindset we need to be about “empowering females within their view,” whatever that means. This “empowering” thing seems little more than a mere buzz-word. I’m all out of pixy dust, my magic wand is malfünkten (German—sort of), and I have no steroids left—I sold them all to Barry Bonds, who, to his credit, really didn’t know what they were. What does it mean to “empower” someone to do or be something, especially if we have no biblical warrant to “empower” them? For Kimball that is apparently unimportant; what is important is the word and how we can be sensitive to how we come across to the emerging culture. If the culture is de facto emerging—in the state of becoming—wouldn’t it be wiser to wait until it’s out of the cocoon so we’ll know what it is?
Anyway, in a sub-heading, Kimball asks, “What can we learn from this misperception?” Here’s his solution: “As you read these suggestions, evaluate your emotional response by asking whether your reaction is shaped by your feelings and church subculture or on a thoughtful study of Scripture.” (p. 122.) I like that because it’s the first time he’s raised the possibility of a thoughtful study of Scripture as being of any help at all. Up to this point we could just as well have been listening to Dr. Phil or Oprah.
So how does Kimball work his thesis out? He offers a number of suggestions. First, we need to have a balance of males and females in the Church. (p. 123.) I couldn’t agree more. It is high time for the lazy, quasi-effeminate men to get off their duffs and start acting like biblical men and fulfilling their God-ordained call to lead like real men in their local churches. Men, you have sat on the sidelines long enough and acted like mere spectators. God has not called you to be crude or macho, but to be providers, protectors, and spiritual leaders in your homes and in the church. Start doing what God called you to do! Oh, and while you’re doing that, don’t whine. I don’t think this is what Kimball meant, but this is what I mean.
Second, we need to have a well-thought-out understanding of the Bible (Ibid.). Wow! There’s a novel idea for a church! Dan is especially disgruntled with the so-called complementarians because they are the ones “who are limiting the roles women can play.” (Ibid.) Really? A true complementarian like myself will argue that it is precisely God as he has revealed his will in Scripture who is “limiting” the roles women can play. In fact, I would argue that God is not limiting women in the least, but that in the roles he has given them he expects them to use their gifts to the glory of his Name and for the males to encourage them and nourish those gifts. Dan is “down”—not in the hip-hop sense—on those who only use Scripture to “shoot off verses taken out of context.” (Ibid.). Well, who wouldn’t be? The major problem is that Dan doesn’t give us any specifics about what he says, which is tantamount to shooting off lack of Scripture out of context. He is convinced that “Not being able to give clear, intelligent, and compassionate reasons is detrimental to emerging generations.” (Ibid.) I doubt it, but if he’s correct, then he and McLaren have been the most detrimental writers to the emerging generations because their writings are vague, filled with generalities—shot off out of context—with little or no Scripture whatsoever to substantiate their theses. It seems to me that the emerging generations actually lap up that kind of thing up. If they didn’t they wouldn’t read another word Kimball or McLaren wrote.
In a John Lennon-esque moment, Kimball asks us to “imagine” that we’re an intelligent, 27-year-old female college grad, trained as a pharmacist, lawyer, or high school English teacher. You’re well rounded—I’m assuming he doesn’t mean you’re obese—, a reader, and culturally savvy—you know who Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan are; in fact you know their parole officers personally. In the course of your imaginings you’ve become interested in Christian spirituality—not necessarily Christianity, but Christian spirituality. We are a metro-spiritual in progress. You pick up a Bible and are confronted with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. This is a fortunate providential event in your life, you just don’t know it yet. God has taken you directly to the passages that are going to stretch and challenge your spirituality. Are you going to take God at his word on his terms or are you going to equivocate? Dan imagines a knee-jerk on the part of our college grad, who somehow managed to survive attending an American university, and wants to know if Christians really believe this. (p. 124.) Our metro-spiritual has had her first trial.
But in reality, the problem isn’t hers. The problem is that those Christians in leadership—in fact most of them (that’s his word) are not really prepared to give good explanations of the above-mentioned passages. (Ibid.) He’s probably right. I agree that many do not come out of seminary well-equipped, with notable exception. Rather than responding to the college grad that Yahweh and Jesus don’t like blondes, more than 51% (most) leaders give weak explanations using Christian clichés. (Ibid.) Which leads Kimball to conclude: “And we wonder why emerging generations so often see us as fundamentalist, backward, oppressive, narrow-minded, cultic fanatics from another era.” (Ibid.). Just for the record, I am from another era. I grew up in a time when men were men and women were women and those who didn’t know the difference stayed in San Fran.
Dan and Jean (open and affirming) could co-pastor The Church of What’s Happening Now, since Rev. Leroy has received his emeritus status. Where are all these churches? If there were ever a straw man, this is it. But Dan is into young-adult ministry, which, when you think about it, is a scary thought. In fact, it was Dan who along with the leadership of his church decided to hold separate membership classes for the 18-30-year-old range. Smooth move. Why did he do that? Well, it was because the older fogies “came across pretty much like, ‘This is the way it is. Take it or leave it, and don’t question it.’” (p. 125.) I’m still looking for this type of congregation. They must exist because the emergents keep referring to them, but I just have never actually found one or been in one. Granting that there must be some like that out there, not being able to ask questions is unfortunate. If I were in that type of new member’s class I would be motivated to move on. On the other hand, many churches seem more than willing to answer questions. We might disagree with their reasons and rationale, but they will answer the questions we ask.
We’re back to John Lennon because now we’re supposed to imagine what it’s like sitting in a room with a number of young adults wondering what the deal is with the “women must be silent” texts. I’ve been there and done that. In reality, we had a good discussion that was based on my preliminary remarks about the Bible being the infallible and inerrant Word of God. From there it was an easy step to explain that God not only disliked blondes, but that he was also pretty cheesed at young people. End of story. Easy.
Third, Dan reminds us that “We need to teach the people of our churches our position,” (p. 127) which really does make you wonder why “we” need to do that while the emergent chit-chat avoids that type of thing like the plague. Does he really expect us to believe that either he or McLaren have been the least bit clear on their views of the atonement and homosexuality? Clearly, Dan the Man and I have a very different view of college grads. He sees them as the paragon of thinking, questioning, and intelligent young adults (p. 126). I tend to view them a young people who have wasted dad and mom’s money while they imbibed all types of nonsense from some left-wing, moveon.org tenured professor, who has never had a real job in his or her life. If you think I’m kidding, grab a catalogue and check out the courses that are being taught these days. Don’t get me wrong: I love to talk to people this age, but my approach is quite different from Dan’s.
Fourth, Dan believes we ought to stop thinking in stereotypes. (p. 129). Apparently, he’s referring to those types of people who call those who do not agree with them fundamentalist, backward, oppressive, narrow-minded, cultic fanatics. Yep. Good point, Dan. One of the reasons Dan is upset is because of an experience he had where one of those narrow-minded, misogynistic, homophobic bigots—and his wife—showed up at his church. It was during one of the chit-chat services and Dan had asked a female leader to give a devotion message in preparation for communion time. Where was Dan? He was “hanging out”—one can only hope he didn’t mean this literally—in the back of the room where he noticed a couple in their late 30s leaving. Clearly, they were not part of the intelligent college grad crowd. They told Dan that they were offended that he had a female speaking. They went on to say, “We thought this was an evangelical church and expected feeding from the Word of God from a male pastor.” (p. 131.) Is that too much to expect? For Dan, however, “these are extreme examples (I hope!)” (Ibid.) Are we any closer to ridding ourselves of stereotypes? Dan certainly is helping us.
Fifth, we need to include females in high levels of leadership and decision-making. (p. 132.) This is more of the emergent conversation’s precision formulation. I say that because Dan never actually tells us what this might entail. For him, the female “isn’t titled pastor, but she is in the highest level meetings.” (Ibid.) So let me see if I have this right. If the church leaders are engaged in the process of excommunication a female, some female, is to be brought in, brought up to speed, and asked to participate in the decision-making process. You’re kidding, right? Simply—almost simple-mindedly—Dan concludes, “Giving females a voice not only brings beauty and strength and health to your church but also sends major signals that your church is not just a boys’ club.” (Ibid.) Automatically? What about the large number of mainline evangelical churches that have done this with less that beautiful, strong, and healthy results? I suppose they only end up being open and affirming.
You would think that given its past since the Second Great Awakening that the modern church would be more concerned to convey the notion that the church is not just a girls’ club. That is not what Kimball and McLaren have in mind. There is also an air of naiveté in Kimball’s words when he says that he has never heard any female ever making the “balance” question a feminist issue. (p. 133.) Really? Which planet has he been on? For someone who purports to be so culturally savvy he seems abysmally ignorant of what the feminists have done since the 1960s. He concludes the chapter on the church being dominated by males and oppressing females with a suggestion that might change the perception that the Church oppresses females by morphing from a church that is dominated by males to one where the church holds women in the highest respect and includes them in the leadership of the church. (Ibid.)
Labels: Emergent Church