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Judgment-Free Disagreements: A Response to Matthew Morine

2015 October 8
by Mike

Many years ago, I got to be part of a small group of ministers who spent a few days with one of my ministry heroes, John Stott. During one session, Stott asked people what their current ministry challenges were. Someone began talking about the challenges they were facing in their religious tribe and in his church in particular as they began including women in all roles of ministry.

A megachurch pastor broke in: “I’d like to know why anyone thinks it’s all right to twist the word of God just so they can please culture!”

Stott turned to him and kindly said, “I think what you meant to say is this: ‘I would love to know more about how this brother who loves Jesus and scripture as much as I do could come to such different conclusions on this issue.'”

In the most recent edition of the Gospel Advocate, Matthew Morine has written an article entitled “The Feminist Agenda Within the Churches of Christ.”

Matthew is an effective minister at the Castle Rock Church of Christ in Colorado. He is a gifted, devoted Christ-follower who is passionate about his faith. You can read the full article either in the Gospel Advocate or at this link.

Matthew has expressed dismay that he has received “a lot of hate” from “the progressive side of the church” in response to the article. I hope that isn’t the case. I certainly haven’t seen anything online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that was hateful. There were strong reactions, though the strongest seemed to come from people outside Churches of Christ.

However, it isn’t surprising to me that some have felt the need to respond—especially given the tone of the article. Here is how the author characterizes those he writes about:

– “Instead of following the plain teachings of the Word of God”

– “This disregard for the intent of the word of the Scriptures”

– “The feelings of those promoting women into leadership are fickle”

– “Hidden forces are at work seeking to corrupt your congregation and lead it into an unfaithful direction”

Perhaps the most provocative claim is that those wanting change are hypocrites: “The church leaders appealing for unbiblical expansion for women’s roles are being hypocrites.” One piece of evidence he cites is that most of the preachers in the more inclusive churches are male. But does that prove that these leaders are hypocrites? I think perhaps all it proves is that they are not the Popes of their churches. The fact that many are in congregations that are less inclusive than they believe those churches should be isn’t a sign of hypocrisy.

He also cites the hypocrisy of Pepperdine’s “Next Gen Preacher Search.” While this isn’t my project, it does come out of my office at Pepperdine, led by Jeff Walling. “Also, if you noticed the ‘Next Gen Preacher Search,’ a few ladies participated, but none of them made it to the final four contestants. Those who say they believe in women preaching are still holding women back from this role.” It seems that the implication is that Jeff or the vast group of judges intentionally rated the women lower. I hope that isn’t what he’s saying, but I don’t know another way to read this.

I remember now the words of my father: “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” Don’t complain when people push back when you’ve accused them of ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, said they have a disregard for the Word of God, called them fickle, and boldly and baldly called them hypocrites. It isn’t hate that’s coming the author’s way (at least not that I’ve seen — and certainly not what this post is about); rather, it’s people defending themselves from unjustified criticism.

I believe he is wrong on this issue. But I don’t think he has a disregard for scripture; nor do I believe he’s a hypocrite. I just disagree with his understandings.

The people I know who believe in the expanded ministry of women love Jesus and love scripture just as much as he does. Some know scripture less than he does; others know scripture better. What’s different isn’t commitment to scripture or willingness to study scripture but conclusions about scripture. And you can be sure of this: no one can avoid the task of interpreting scripture. There is no one here who is “just reading scripture” without interpretation.

Can we come to different conclusions without calling each other hypocrites?

For me, coming to this new understanding was a painful journey. I changed my opinion on this a long time ago not because I wanted to cave in to culture or because I didn’t care what scripture said but because this is where my long study of scripture led me. (I also know others who know and love scripture as much as I do who disagree with me.)

This sermon is a decade old, but it explains how one devoted to scripture can come to an egalitarian position. Also, for further study you can refer to resources like these:

John Stackhouse, Finally Feminist
Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet
Stanley Grenz, Women in the Church
Alan Johnson, ed., How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership
Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives
Ben Witherington, Women and the Genesis of Christianity
William Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals
Carroll Osburn, Women in the Church, Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity (vols 1, 2)

This is not a matter of disregard for scripture; rather it’s an issue of different interpretations and different conclusions.

If you make the kind of bold claims about your opponents that the author makes, you will be overwhelmed with people cheering you on. “Thank you for holding to the word of God!” “Thank you for caring about truth!” “Jesus was attacked, too!”

But that doesn’t mean you were right.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. October 8, 2015

    This is the piece I wrote several days ago for Wineskins. A few have objected that I didn’t respond to the Gospel Advocate article with scripture. That’s because I was responding to the tone of the article, not the issue itself. For scriptural references on the issue, please click the link to my sermon.

    The editor of the GA has called my response a “vacuous rant.” I’m sure this response is lacking in several ways, but to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word ‘rant.’ I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

  2. Shannon Beasley permalink
    October 8, 2015

    I can’t not post this from Sam Harris’s new book _Islam and the Future of Tolerance_: “The doors leading out of the prison of scriptural literalism simply do not open from the inside.”

  3. October 31, 2015

    Agree, “This is not a matter of disregard for scripture; rather it’s an issue of different interpretations and different conclusions.”

  4. November 11, 2015

    I have disagreement that goes quite deep with probably the majority of my brothers and sisters in the church. I have been accused of having the wrong “tone” as well. Mostly I go ignored.

    My “issue” is not so much feminism. It’s not homosexuality. It’s not abortion. It’s not worship style. So, I sense I am coming out of left field at that level with your post. Rather, my “issue” is homelessness and how we treat the poor.

    When my brothers and sisters either run me and my street friends off church property or ignore us in the cold of night, I sense this is actually a life and death issue.

    The thing is that in the few exchanges where I actually was engaged, my brothers and sisters DID NOT even open a Bible.

    So… it’s not so much that we love Scriptures and come to different conclusions innocently. It is that we have come to conclusions on other grounds entirely and are willing to ignore Scripture altogether as part of the disagreement.

    I don’t get that.

    But I sense that I am still left in about the same place you seem to be steering us out of. But I don’t see you addressing the matter at this level. And when it comes to people being left out in the cold to freeze and face possible death, not to mention the famed and profound judgment passage(s) of Scripture that readily come to mind (Matt 25 – chief among them) which arguably suggests we might be destroyed for getting this one wrong – makes opening and examining Scriptures a prerequisite. But we don’t. So what then?

  5. Ken Dunham permalink
    December 18, 2015

    I have been in the churches of Christ for a little over 60 years. For as long as I can remember there has been a segment of our fellowship who believe they have figured out the correct interpretations of all scripture, and anyone who disagrees with these interpretations is a heretic. The ministers who disagree with these so-called accepted interpretations are branded with titles like “change agents” in church bulletins and on websites. There is very little desire on the part of some to engage in a discussion of scriptural interpretation, because they believe the issues are settled. I am pleased that I have lived long enough to witness the decline of close-mindedness and the dawn of a new era of openness.

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