In today’s blog, you will be receive insights in how to visit a church like an insurance adjuster. In my insurance adjusting career handling all sorts of serious claims across the US, one of my favorite reads was Don Winslow’s “California Fire and Life” –
“Jack Wade was the rising star of the Orange County Sheriffs Department’s arson unit, but a minor scandal cost him everything, except his encyclopedic knowledge of fire. Now working as an insurance claims investigator, Jack is called in to examine a suspicious claim …”
Waving my author wand in a circle three times, I empower you, reader, as “Church Claims Investigator” to prepare you evaluate the claims made by the next church you visit. Can you sniff through the assertions of a church to determine whether this group is a safe match for you and your family? The insights given below will likely raise questions in your journey:
- Rule one: ask lots of questions
- Rule two: there is no bad question.
Your first assignment begins now …
… Your First Visit
… Begins with the worship bulletin. Below is an example of a church we have visited frequently. The first step, do a survey of the balance between men and women serving in the church. In the bulletin below, count how many men are listed in the bulletin compared to number of women. In a second pass, count how many females are serving in leadership roles, versus watching babies in the nursery, serving coffee or working as office receptionist.
The yellow highlights in the bulletin below show how the church sends the message that female leaders are welcome here:
Before you attend the church, you can visit its website’s leadership area. We visited another prominent local church a few times. Below is their website today. Let’s click on this and see what you can observe compared to the example of the United Methodist Church bulletin above:
Upon clicking “Leadership” –
Blurring out the faces and descriptions, you get the picture that males run the church. A review of their doctrinal statement would support that white, straight males run the church.
Who is valued?
In light of who holds the senior leadership positions, whose voice will be heard? Who is relegated to support roles simply due to their gender?
I rewrote this blog to attempt to give it more a PG-13 perspective, redacting some severely toxic church leaders who made the local news. The tools given to you in this blog, will give you more freedom and fulfillment in your church journey.
Should you find yourself attracted to a male led church, I respect your decision and pray God blesses you. Please do your homework to determine how this male domination extends to the life choices of you and your daughters.
Example – We visited a local church. All the pastors and elders were male. The women sat at a different table from the men. Women were groomed to have a career under the protection of their husbands, meaning no career of their own. For example, a woman could work in the front office of her husband’s insurance agency.
Divorcees were second class citizens and grown children of divorce were suspect. Gay people have no place at the table. Home school is promoted to advocate separation from sinful society. And, now, most troubling, church discipline is to be administered from the pastor down in the church.
The top down church discipline means that the pastor doles out discipline he sees fit in a tight chain-of-command over the elders, the elders over the church members … the husband over the wives. In essence, this church attempted to create a male dominated plantation style of leadership, where any dissent was met with threat of shunning and possibly corporal punishment.
If a faith group like the above entered a contestant onto the Bachelorette, their first choice would be … Luke P, who made a final comment that “men need to provide leadership and guidance for their wives.”
In light of the disastrous outcome of Luke P’s series on The Bachelorette, one is reminded of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture. Niebuhr described five views how Christians live and engage in their surrounding culture. [Richard Niebhur’s older brother, Reinhold, composed “The Serenity Prayer,” so often used in Alcoholics Anonymous.]
Christ and Culture: Five Views – From Focus on the Family
1. Christ against culture
Christ against culture occupies one extreme of the continuum. All expressions of culture outside the church are viewed with a high degree of suspicion and as irreparably corrupted by sin. They are to be withdrawn from and avoided as much as possible. Traditional ascetic communities as well as various sectarian and fundamentalist groups would hold to some version of this view.
2. Christ of culture
Christ of culture sits at the polar opposite from the previous one. Cultural expressions as a whole are accepted uncritically and celebrated as a good thing. In theory, little or no conflict is seen between culture and Christian truth. In practice, the latter is compromised to accommodate the former. This is the view espoused by classic Gnosticism and liberal Protestantism.
3. Christ above culture
Christ above culture, a medial position between the first two, regards cultural expressions as basically good, as far as they go. However, they need to be augmented and perfected by Christian revelation and the work of the church, with Christ supreme over both. This view was expounded by Thomas Aquinas, and has been a predominant position among Roman Catholics since.
4. Christ and culture in paradox
Christ and culture in paradox is another medial option between the extremes. It sees human culture as a good creation that’s been tainted by sin. As a result, there’s a tension in the Christian’s relationship to culture, simultaneously embracing and rejecting certain aspects of it. Augustine (in part) as well as Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard are representative of this view.
5. Christ the transformer of culture
Christ the transformer of culture is yet another medial alternative. It also recognizes human culture as initially good and subsequently corrupted by the fall. But since Christ is redeeming all of creation, the Christian can and should work to transform culture to the glory of God. This is the view held by Augustine (again, in part) as well as John Calvin and others in the Reformed tradition.
For extra credit, please watch Luke P’s episode The Bachelorette and discuss living a Christian balanced life in today’s culture. What are the ethical issues? What are the relationship issues between men and women? What defines a healthy, balanced relationship? How can a Christian live as the “salt of the earth” without ruining the soup?
Your assignment is to visit a local church of your choice. Begin with the website. Visiting the church: Where are the women in leadership? The people of color? Are gay people welcome? Divorced people? Does their doctrinal statement read like a multi-paged single spaced Manifesto? A sample “Manifesto” copied below is one of three “Affirmations” from a church website which serves as church “twin language” relaying that the church holds to the similar code of “submission, allegiance, and protection.” In particular, these like-minded groups hold that women need men to protect them from their own life choices and decisions. Male control of finances can limit life choices such enrolling in a college course, clothing and beauty purchases, selection of friends, and education of children. It’s hard to escape when you can’t buy shoes for the journey. Children, likewise, fall under the same “discipline and protection.” Buzzwords I highlighted in red: allegiance, we have nothing good in ourselves, controlled, vulnerable, we submit, through the roles he has called us, we seek our own good when we seek the good of the body, protection and guidance, respective roles, God’s sovereign will, honor and obey, we submit.
The conservative dogmatic diagram below is widely circulated on social media to show how male “protection” runs downhill –
An excellent blog on this can found at “How Sexism in the Church Almost Ruined My Life.” Jennifer Martin subtitled her blog “A Supposedly Feminist Website.” The diagram describes a trickle down theory from the males in power. Women sheltered under this protection find a world in which they want for nothing. The man provides their financial needs and shields them from pressures of having a career. However, when a controlling or abusive man enters this world, he discovers his own gated entertainment park, where no man can question his exploits and no woman has a voice. A woman’s protected world of quilting, crafts and cran-apple pie becomes a prison walled by the cage of protection and reinforced by the complicit advice and silence of the male elders and pastors.
To suggest that women don’t need men to protect them from their own life choices upsets the entire testosterone filled male compound. I like the old Baptist motto, “It’s not how high you jump; it’s how straight you walk.” Or as Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” John 8:36. For those who are trapped in a faith group described above, there is hope for you to escape and begin anew.
36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.John 8:36
You are Valued,
Postscript: If you are searching for new church, The Church at Litchfield Park serves as a hallmark of a balanced ministry, where all people are welcome to worship and serve in a safe environment. You can review the church website at https://www.churchatlitchfieldpark.org/ and use it as a touchstone as you visit churches your area.