Wealthy, White, Male Domination…at Willow Creek Community Church

Christian Egalitarians are keen to recognize classism, racism, and sexism and keen to recognize how scripture is distorted on behalf of the powerful. Christian Egalitarians who are familiar with the internal workings at Willow are familiar with the classism, racism, and sexism prevalent at Willow, not only among many of the members, but also among many of the staff, including the arts and production teams and also senior leaders. We are also keen in how scripture is distorted at Willow to benefit the powerful, specifically, the wealthy, white, male.

One historical example of what happens when biblical interpretation is in the hands of the powerful: during the days of slavery in the South, Christian Patriarchalists distorted scripture and taught and practiced slavery as ‘biblical’. Other historical examples of what happens when biblical interpretation is in the hands of the powerful: Christians implemented The Inquisition, Witch Hunts, and Indulgences—all with ‘biblical’ support.

When scriptural interpretation is in the hands of the powerful and scripture is distorted to benefit and defend the evils of the powerful, the obvious results are evil practices justified as ‘biblical’. This essay is about the biblical distortions from Steve Carter, Teaching Pastor at Willow, that benefit the powerful, specifically the wealthy, white, male. First, a few items to put the subject in context.

Respect and Domination are Mutually Exclusive

Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow, began a new sermon series titled, “Love Everyone, Always.” The first sermon is title, “Respect Everyone, Always,” October 23, 2016. In the sermon, Bill outlined 10 points defining “respect”. As point number four, Bill instructed “don’t interrupt or dominate” in the context of having a conversation with someone. This is the only context Bill used on the subject of “dominate”; Bill only scratched the surface on the subject. At least, he brought up the subject. No doubt, Bill tapped into his egalitarian background by bringing up the subject of domination and presenting it as incongruous with respect.

Egalitarians are clearly aware that respect and domination are mutually exclusive. That’s because domination is the root, the core, of Patriarchy. God instructs us to respect everyone, always. But domination entered the human scene only after the Fall and only as a consequence of the Fall. Before the Fall, God gave dominion to both man and woman over the earth, but not over each other. When Jesus walked the earth, he practiced dominion over nature and over unclean spirits, but never over a human. If God does not practice dominion over humans, God certainly is not going to instruct or command humans to dominate each other. Dominion, or control, of one human(s) over another human(s) is contrary to God’s nature and contrary to his instructions to us. Dominion over humans is part of the fallen nature of humans.

Dominion and Patriarchy are synonymous. The three common forms of domination practiced by patriarchalists are based on 1) gender, 2) race, and 3) class: 1) men over women; 2) in our country, USA, white and white supremacy over ethnic minorities; 3) the rich and influential over the poor and vulnerable. The ethnic component varies from culture to culture; but in patriarchal societies, these are the three common forms of dominion that make up Patriarchy.

Dominion Theology

In recent years, in the USA, Christian Patriarchalists have been popularizing Dominion Theology in politics. Dominion Theology seeks to establish our nation governed—ruled, dominated, that is—by Christians based on understanding and interpretation of scripture and biblical law. Dominion Theology is based on the belief, by Christian Patriarchalists, that God gave the New World, America, to the European Christian conquerors—an idea similar to Judaic Zionism of God giving the Promised Land to the Israelites. In general, Christian Patriarchalists who adhere to Dominion Theology are supportive of Judaic Zionism in the Middle East. Dominion Theology is highly controversial within Christianity and has many flaws—one of which is ingrained racism. In general, Egalitarians do not adhere to Dominion Theology since it falls under the bigger umbrella of Patriarchy. However, I have come across subgroups among Egalitarians who lean toward Dominion Theology and who are also supportive of Judaic Zionism.

I am not going to critique Dominion Theology here. I mention it to point out its connection to Patriarchy and Christian Patriarchalists as an example of the “domination” that Christian Patriarchalists seek to practice.

Steve Carter and Domination

As I have written numerous times before, Steve Carter teaches and models Patriarchal principles. Even though Willow has been making great effort to instruct Steve in Egalitarian theology, Steve continues to practice and model Patriarchy, on and off-stage. Steve’s form of Patriarchy is common among Christian Patriarchalists, and is it very deceitful and dangerous.

Immediately following Bill’s sermon on “Respect Everyone, Always,” Steve followed up with a post on social media summarizing Bill’s 10 points. Steve makes a notable omission on his summary of the 10 points: Steve omits “dominate” under point number four.

Unintentional omission or a difference of opinion? Steve’s summary is identical to Bill’s summary, except for the obvious omission. Viewed in light of Steve’s other Patriarchal tendencies, Steve’s omission may well have been intentional.

respect-steve respect-bill

Wealthy, White, Male Domination

During the October 9, 2016 message titled, “Turning Disruption into Reconciliation,” Steve made a compelling case for ‘reconciliation’ under the model of ‘benevolent’ Patriarchy from his interpretation of the story of Jacob and Esau. In short, ‘reconciliation’ between someone who has experienced hurt and loss, such as “racism” or “sexism”, and the perpetrator rests on prayer for the turning of the hearts. Steve compared the examples of “cultural disruptions” of “racism” and “sexism” to the loss that Esau experienced from Jacob’s trickery, and placed “practical” [financial] ‘restitution’ solely on the hands of the perpetrator in the form of “gifts.”

Steve neglected to mention that Jacob and Esau never saw each other again after their beautiful encounter of ‘reconciliation.’ What kind of reconciliation is that if the two never saw each other again? Steve reduced people who have experienced “racism” and “sexism” to people who lash out of anger and bitterness. In past sermons and also off stage, Steve has dismissed people who seek “justice” [for racism and sexism] as people who lash out of “bitterness” and “revenge”. Additionally, Steve undermined the severity of racism and sexism by de-classifying them as injustices and re-classifying them as “cultural disruptions”. The word “injustice” is difficult for Christian Patriarchalists to hear since they view seeking justice as a “political agenda”.

In the message, Steve emphasized prayer as the way to turn the hearts so that ‘reconciliation’ can take place. Steve also mentioned the “gifts” that Jacob gave to Esau during their ‘reconciliatory’ meeting. However, the gifts—given by either generosity or by guilt—were in no way equivalent to restitution. By the way, “financial restitution” was not even mentioned in the message. Something else that Steve neglected to state is that in this country, USA, people who experience racism or sexism have the legal “right” to seek full financial restitution and they don’t have to wait for the turning of the heart of the perpetrator to obtain it, nor is full financial restitution dependent on whatever “gifts” —if any—the perpetrator decides to give. Jesus taught and modeled a gospel of full reconciliation and full [financial] restitution for the lesser party. The Old Testament has examples of full financial restitution as well. For examples, see the concept of Jubilee in the Old Testament, and the story of Philemon and Onesimus and also the Parable of Jesus about the Persistent Widow in the New Testament.

In Steve’s model, the only one who received full restitution was Jacob, the Patriarch who Steve presented as the deceiver and thief who thru trickery obtained the first born rights and blessing and who also received the favor and approval of God. This is not the first time Steve has used a weekend message to elevate the Old Testament model of the system of the Patriarchs. In this message however, Steve presented a ‘biblical’ model of how a deceiver and thief ended up receiving the favor and approval of God. A timely and pertinent message in light of the current presidential election where the Patriarchal Evangelical community is very supportive of a presidential candidate who has faulty character but is supported under the pretext that his is, or can be, someone who has been chosen by God to be president of the United States. Steve with his patriarchal interpretation on Jacob, has given Patriarchal Evangelicals ‘biblical’ support for endorsing a presidential candidate well known as a racist, sexist, and sexual predator. Immediately following Steve’s message, support for the un-mentionable presidential candidate surged rapidly—maybe a coincidence, maybe not. If the degenerate candidate wins the presidency, Steve Carter, via Willow, may have some credit for the win. Unfortunately, Bill Hybels has not spoken up specifically against the degenerate presidential candidate. Thereby, Bill’s silence passively allows Steve’s subversive message to have more power in support of the degenerate presidential candidate.

Steve may have had good intentions to address racism and sexism and reconciliation in the message. But, the way in which Steve structured the subject promoted the ‘benevolent’ model of patriarchy. Comparing racism and sexism to Esau’s state of loss was Steve’s first endorsement of patriarchy, and the comparisons spiraled downward as Steve presented the ‘benevolent’ Patriarchal model where the perpetrator gets to solely decide the ‘reconciliatory’ “gifts.” Putting the ‘reconciliatory’ “gifts” in the hands of the perpetrator is an insult to those experiencing racism and sexism and it undermines the gospel that Jesus modeled which is based on full reconciliation/restitution. Putting the ‘reconciliatory’ “gifts” in the hands of the perpetrator also undermines the laws of our land for full [financial] restitution. In many ways, the laws of our land are closer to scripture’s model of full restitution than are Steve’s model of ‘benevolent’ Patriarchy.

Steve presented the typical ‘benevolent’ Patriarchal model that elevates ‘unity’ or ‘reconciliation’ over justice and full restitution for those who have experienced “racism” or “sexism”. Such distortion of scripture is similar to when Christian Patriarchalists elevate ‘forgiveness’ or ‘unity’ over justice and restitution for rape or domestic violence survivors. Christian reconciliation has no room for racism or sexism. But, instead of addressing injustice, Steve undermines it with his call for a “change of heart”. Such mentality is typical for patriarchalists who enable abuse and impunity and normalize wealthy, white, male dominance. Steve’s exhortation to the powerful to have a “change of heart” and to be ‘benevolent’ is deceptive since it ultimately endorses the wealthy, white, male domination model. Benevolent is obviously better then cruel, but the core problem is domination. Steve does not tackle domination, he upholds it.

Another horrific biblical distortion in Steve’s message is on the subject of contentment. Steve presented Esau as grateful and humble for whatever “gifts” Jacob bestowed upon him and used him as a model to exhort the inferior to do the same. Since Steve compared victims of racism and sexism to Esau, then the victim of racism or sexism should also be thankful and grateful for whatever “gifts” their perpetrators choose to bestow upon them. This is typical patriarchal mentality that tells the inferior to be thankful for whatever scraps the superior choose to bestow upon them and another way in which justice is undermined. Example, “You are complaining about your hourly wage? You should be content that you have a job at all!”

Yet, another horrific biblical distortion in Steve’s message is victim blaming. Steve clearly points out Esau’s role in giving up his own birth rights, thereby Steve blames the victim for his loss. Following up on the comparison between Esau and those who have experienced racism or sexism, the victims themselves are to blame for the racism and sexism they have experienced.

This is not the first time Steve has elevated the wealthy, white, male domination model. In the past, Steve has distorted scripture to condemn the poor who criticize the rich and powerful and has distorted scripture in order to defend the rich and powerful. Steve has condemned ethnic minorities, such as when he condemned the young African-American teen of not being capable of having “convictions of steel” due to his fear of his grave circumstances. Steve has condemned women as faulty and inferior such as his portrayals of Eve and Miriam, portrayals which he later had to correct on stage. Steve does not promote reconciliation between the rich and poor, between men and women, between white and colored. Instead, Steve’s tribalistic and condemning character reinforces hierarchical divisions and elevates the wealthy, white, male domination model. Ironically, Steve promoted such domination model in his message on ‘reconciliation’—misleading and deceptive message, indeed.

Steve Off-Stage

There is no point in me approaching Steve on his biblical distortions and promotion of Patriarchal principles. I have tried in the past and only received denials and personal attacks. His most recent responses have been via email. Steve has emailed me and invited me to meet with him as a pretext to get me to stop writing about him. I said no to his invitation to meet and Steve’s true character revealed itself, character in him I had already seen in the past. His passive-aggressive, bullying, dismissive, controlling, arrogant and domineering character quickly surfaced to demand that I stop writing about him and demand that I remove all my posts about him. Steve threw a tantrum via email—as much as a person can throw a tantrum via email. Steve has thrown himself into tantrums against my critiques before; so, I wasn’t surprised to see it via email. I don’t plan to publish his emails, but I do plan to write a post on his email responses and to quote him as a way to point out his immature and bullying character. I would gladly forward Steve’s emails to an Elder or senior leader who has oversight of Steve if he or she makes a request for those emails.

Elders and Senior Leaders

But, I don’t expect such a request, since I have already tried to communicate with the Elders and senior leaders regarding Steve’s faulty character and biblical distortions. In the past attempts, I have received from them excuses and personal attacks as well. When an Elder is nominated at Willow, the church members are invited to present objections. I don’t know how well those who object are received, but when it comes to objecting to Steve Carter, the critics are met with personal attacks. I know. I have been a recipient of those personal attacks.

The Elders at Mark Driscoll’s church defended Mark Driscoll and they did not consider Mark’s arrogant and immature character as a disqualifier for senior leadership, nor did they consider Mark’s biblical distortions as a disqualifier.

On multiple occasions, I have presented the various ways in which Steve has revealed immature and arrogant character and how he has distorted scripture. On some occasions, Willow senior leadership has concurred with my assessments. Yet, Willow has promoted Steve to Teaching Pastor and has him currently in line to be the next Senior Pastor at Willow. Willow has made it clear to me that faulty character and biblical distortions are not disqualifiers for a male Patriarchalist in senior leadership…at Willow Creek Community Church.

 

 

Priscilla – Bishop of Rome

Prischilla priest-34132_1280

“Had the New Testament Christians used titles that were in practice by later Christians, Priscilla would have been recognized as the Bishop of Rome.” (paraphrased)

-Dr. David M. Scholer

A woman bishop?

Not just any bishop, but the Bishop of Rome.

The significance of Rome is that it became the headquarter of Christianity, after Jerusalem, when the church’s membership and overseers became increasingly Gentile due to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Today, Rome is still the religious center for the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) where the Pope resides and from where the Pope carries out his oversight of the RCC throughout the world as the primary overseer. The Bishop of Rome is a title given to the Pope as the primary overseer of the RCC.

Dr. David M. Scholer, former professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary who passed away in the year 2008, spoke the paraphrased quote above during his class at Fuller Seminary titled, “Women, the Bible and the Church.” Dr. Scholer wrote an essay which summarizes the content of his course. The essay may be downloaded from the Fuller Seminary website, “Women in Ministry: A Biblical Basis for Equal Partnership“.

Priscilla: Paul’s Co-Worker

New Testament Christians rarely used the term “leader” to refer to Christian leaders as we know today. The term “leader” in the New Testament was primarily used for teachers, priests, and other religious overseers of Judaism and for the Gentile government and military officials of the non-Christian Roman Empire. The New Testament Christians distinguished themselves by not typically using the term “leader”, instead they used the term “servant” on themselves. They did not use the term “servant leader”. That term would have been incongruous and incompatible—an oxymoron—since the Christians were using the term “servant” to distinguish and contrast their structure of relating to one another in mutuality based on calling, giftedness, and graces as “servants” of God and/or Christ from the authoritarian, hierarchical, and, to some extent, apartheid “leader”-ship and “ruler”-ship style of Judaism and the Roman Empire. See Mark 10: 35-45 for Jesus’ contrast between the authoritarian leadership style, or “ruler”-ship, of the Gentiles to the “servant”-hood of his followers. This scripture also contains a correlation between “ruler”-ship and positions of power and honor.

In addition to the term “servant”, Paul used the term “co-worker” to relate to fellow Christian “servant”s (or leaders as we would refer to them today). The term has a connotation of mutuality and partnership without hierarchy. Like the term “servant”, “worker” reflects the work, or service, offered to the lordship of God and/or Christ.

The term “co-worker” is used instead of titles. New Testament Christians did not use titles, for the exception of once or twice, because titles were used in the hierarchical systems of Judaism and Roman Empire to recognize, stratify, and elevate respective individuals in their positions of authority, rulership, power, and honor. Positions with titles were not necessarily sought or acquired for the purpose of servant-hood, but for the purpose of acquiring power and honor…. and to be served. Jesus rebuked such purposes and prohibited his “servant”s from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor and avoid usurping authority and honor that belong to God, see Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, Mark 10: 35-45. Jesus and the New Testament Christians observed and noted how the leaders of both Judaism and Roman Empire usurped God’s authority and honor in order to elevate themselves. Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how to avoid doing the same and the practical instruction Jesus gave was to avoid using titles.

Paul used the term “co-worker” several times in his letters to refer to prominent “servants” and church founders who helped shape and establish the New Testament church such as Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Paul, Apollos, Titus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement among others, including himself. These individuals were apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers; but Paul referred to them only as “co-workers”. Paul and Peter were both Apostles, and their service (or leadership as we would refer to it today) was so highly regarded that their teachings and writings are still regarded as scripture. The Christians at Corinth, specifically the self appointed pseudo-philosophers, elevated Apollos as an individual holding a high status similar to that of Paul and Peter, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Clement was recognized by post New Testament Christians as the second Pope after the martyrdom of Peter. Paul compared the service of Euodia and Syntyche, who had primary oversight over the church at Philippi, to the service of Clement—Pope #2, Philippians 4: 2-3. Titus and Timothy were both church planters, pastors, and teachers—church planter was a general description of an apostle; and, both served as primary overseers of their respective churches. For serving as primary overseers of their respective churches both Titus and Timothy were recognized by post New Testament Christians as bishops, Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus and Titus as Bishop of the Island of Crete.

Worthy of note, Onesimus, who was not recognized by Paul as “co-worker” but as “son”—also a description Paul used for Timothy—was the former slave of Philemon. Onesimus after receiving his freedom devotes himself to church service for which post New Testament Christians recognize him as Bishop of Ephesus following the martyrdom of Timothy.

Priscilla and her husband Aquila both were church planters, or apostles, pastors, and teachers, as well. Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth; Priscilla and Aquila were both already Christians when they met Paul. Together they planted the church in Corinth. Later, Timothy and Titus served in Corinth as pastors. A few years after planting the church in Corinth, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila left for Ephesus to plant a church. Later, Timothy served in Ephesus as pastor for which he was recognized by post New Testament Christians as Bishop of Ephesus, as previously noted. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Priscilla and Aquila had the primary oversight of the church in Rome, Romans 16: 3-5.

Priscilla and Aquila: 5x-Priscilla , 2x-Aquila

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned seven times in the New Testament and are always mentioned together. Two times Aquila’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:2, 1 Corinthians 16:19), five times Priscilla’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:18, 18:19, 18:26, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19). Cultural practice always names the husband first before the wife, in fact, this reversal in naming doesn’t happen anywhere else for a married couple in the Old Testament nor New Testament. The significance of Priscilla’s name mentioned before her husband’s reflects Priscilla’s prominence and primary oversight in ministry. Even though Priscilla and Aquila are ministry partners, for Paul to mention her name first he is recognizing her as the primary overseer of the church in Rome, therefore Priscilla was the one serving as Bishop of Rome. Additionally, Luke in Acts also mentions Priscilla’s name first which reflects that not only Paul, but also Luke, and the Christian church as a whole, would have recognized Priscilla’s prominence in the church.

Priscilla: The Baker

How did Priscilla, Bishop of Rome, become the baker and tea server of the Aquila and Priscilla partnership?

When I was in the Calvary Chapel, the couple was known as Aquila and Priscilla, not as Priscilla and Aquila. By mentioning the husband first, the Chapelites, as well as so many other gender-hierarchicalists, disregard the prominence that Paul, Luke and the New Testament church ascribed to Priscilla.

Chapelites explained that Aquila was the teacher, not Priscilla; Priscilla was the hospitable one responsible for the culinary and fellowship details of their meeting with Apollos. After pointing out to the Chapelites that Luke mentioned Priscilla before Aquila in Acts 18:26 where Luke recorded that “Priscilla and Aquila” invited Apollos to their home to “explain”, or teach, to him “the way of God more adequately”, the Chapelites updated their response and recognized that Aquila was the primary teacher, not the sole teacher to Apollos. This response is not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence as a servant, but certainly an improvement from not recognizing her as a teacher at all. However, her recognition as a teacher includes the following qualifier from the Chapelites, “but she taught Apollos under the authority of her husband”, which is also not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence.

Sex roles based on misinterpretations of a few scriptural passages lead gender-hierarchalists to misinterpret all scriptural passages about women and to revise biblical history in order to fit women into a subordinate role of authority between men and women and between husbands and wives. Case in point, gender-hierarchicalists, such as the Chapelites described above, degrade Priscilla’s prominence and position of responsibility, or leadership and authority, in order to “put her in her place”—sort of speak—as subordinate woman and wife.

I once attended a church, not a Calvary Chapel, that recognizes Priscilla’s prominence in the church compared to Aquila but instead of degrading her to a position under Aquila they make her into Aquila’s sister. This particular church is not able to recognize Priscilla as Aquila’s wife because as wife her prominence is contrary to their gender-hierarchical view of marriage as husband over wife in spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making matters.

The Distraction of Titles

Chapelites falsely accuse egalitarians, specifically women egalitarians, of raising awareness of lack of women in senior leadership positions, specifically in areas of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making oversight such as senior pastors, teachers, and elders, as selfishly ambitious and driven by the desire to hold positions of power and honor. That particular false accusation is actually an accidental and unwilling acknowledgement, a slip up, by patriarchalists that those positions which they reserve for men only are indeed positions of power and honor. It is a slip up because no effort to envelope those positions with benevolence the attributes of power and honor in those positions will always manifest themselves.

The highest calling for a follower of Christ is to bear witness to the Truth and to Jesus as Messiah, or as commonly known, preach the gospel of Jesus. All believers are called to this higher calling. With spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, a believer bears witness. The spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, are available to all believers according to the choosing of the Holy Spirit. No person is denied any particular gift, and its corresponding title or position, based on ethnicity, class, or sex, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12, 14.

The challenge egalitarians present to gender-hierarchicalists is that they point out how gender-hierarchicalists have turned the witnessing of the gospel, which is entrusted to all believers, into a system of subjugation with principles and practices that serve and keep in power an elite group by limiting certain positions of high responsibly, or authority, to only that particular elite group. In this case, the elite group is the men and the subjugated group is the women. This particular system of subjugation is based on sex, but a system of subjugation based on ethnicity and/or class are also created. Galatians 3:28, Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, and Mark 10: 35-45 point to the strict prohibition of creating systems of subjugation based on ethnicity, class, and/or sex among the follower of Christ.

The New Testament church realized what a distraction and danger “ruler”-ship and “leader”-ship titles and positions of power and honor posed to the life of the new community and to the witnessing of the gospel. The use of titles in systems of human subjugation prompted the New Testament believers to reject the use of titles within their community and instead used terms such as “servant” and “co-worker” in order to emphasize “servant”-hood and mutuality in the new community of Christ-followers. The New Testament church did have “servants” who had more authority and responsibility than others, but those individuals were recognized based on calling and gifting and graces given by God, not by sex nor ethnicity nor socio-economic status, Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 12, 14.

What now?

Some churches and Christian groups stay away from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor but also to avoid offending gender-hierarchicalists who regard certain positions and titles to be limited to men only. Not using titles may be impractical, especially for large churches. The benefit of using titles is that the congregation is made aware of who in the church has what responsibilities which make it convenient for church members to know who to seek for pertinent assistance. However, when a church limits certain positions of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making authority to certain groups based on sex, ethnicity, or socio-economic status then those positions turn to positions of power and honor and the church creates a system of subjugation. Chapelites and other gender-hierarchicalists who refer to themselves as ‘complementarians’ insist that men in authority are to be servants and benevolent, but a serving and benevolent system of subjugation is still a system of subjugation.

The New Testament has no more than two references to the use of titles and in both cases the title is acknowledged on a woman. For further study on women in senior or ordained ministry in the medieval and early church see works by Gary Macy such as The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West and also works by Dorothy Irvin; here Irvin is referenced in an article by Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Bitalia, the Ancient Woman Priest.”

 

Steve Carter and Patriarchal Gender Essentialism at Willow Creek

As stated in previous articles in this website, I will be writing extensively on Steve Carter’s patriarchal teachings and modeling. Steve Carter is Willow Creek’s Teaching Pastor and appears to be first in line to take the Senior Pastor position after Bill Hybels retires.

In this article I will address gender essentialism as taught by Steve Carter during weekend messages on September 27 & 28, 2014 titled The God I Wish You Knew Guides Us. I have two reasons for choosing this weekend message for my first article that describes Steve’s patriarchal teachings.

First, Steve has been on staff at Willow Creek since Fall 2012. On numerous occasions he has taught and modeled patriarchalism and even though he has corrected many of his teachings in subsequent messages—under the instruction and correction of his supervisor(s)—he continues to teach and model patriarchalism. Either, he is subvert-ly and continually teaching patriarchalism, or he doesn’t know he is teaching patriarchalism which is why he continues to teach and model it and why he continues to be corrected.

Second, during this weekend’s message Steve taught a clear and obvious form of gender essentialism common among patriarchalists.

What is gender essentialism?

Gender essentialism ascribes differing aspects and traits of God to men and women. That is, men and women reflect the image and character of God differently. In patriarchal doctrine, the character and image traits ascribed respectively to men and women are generally exclusive. Meaning, men reflect certain aspects of God that women do not and women reflect certain aspects of God that men do not.

The aspects of God reflected differently and respectively or exclusively by men and women lead patriarchalists to assign gender roles appropriate for the respective image and character traits for men and women. As an example, patriarchalists ascribe traits of God’s righteousness to men, therefore men are better suited to be leaders since they are better fit to reflect God’s attributes of righteousness. Another example, women reflect the nurturing aspect of God, therefore they are more suitable to raise and nurture children and are the appropriate parent to stay at home and care for the children.

These two examples of patriarchal gender essentialism and gender roles are common among patriarchalists. Many other examples exist and the assigning of character traits and gender roles between men and women varies among patriarchal communities. What is common among all patriarchalists is that they use their own version of gender essentialism to place men in the leader and decision-making role and place women in the subordinate and inferior role. Gender essentialism becomes the tool patriarchalists use to subordinate women. The benevolent patriarchalists—or hierarchical-complementarians who prefer to call themselves ‘complementarians’—make great effort, and in good faith, to value their women in their subordinate and inferior roles. Unfortunately, that effort turns into insulting, degrading, and patronizing of their women—in the near future I plan to write on that subject and how that occurs at Willow Creek.

Other examples of gender essentialism at Willow Creek

Gender essentialism has been taught at Willow Creek before and continues to be promoted by Willow’s marriage ministry. Dan Allender, after speaking on marriage and intimacy at a weekend service on February 6, 2011, was invited to teach a one-day conference also on marriage and intimacy in January of 2012 titled Intimate Mystery Conference (the recording might still be available at Willow’s Seeds bookstore, a similar conference recording is available directly from Dan Allender). Currently, Willow’s marriage ministry promotes two of Allender’s books on marriage.

Allender’s psychology and theology of gender is based on patriarchal gender essentialism. Allender teaches in Intimate Mystery Conference that “men, more than women, reflect the heart of righteousness of God.” He also teaches (in Willow’s weekend message of February 2011 and in Intimate Mystery Conference of January 2012) that women, not men, suffer from the problem of control. Meaning, women—not men—seek to control other people. On several occasions in Intimate Mystery Conference Allender made reference to “controlling mothers” as a problem needing to be addressed. He never mentioned “controlling fathers”; that’s because “controlling fathers” don’t exist in his psychology and theology of patriarchal gender essentialism.

Allender teaches also that women reflect a “gentle strength”, a description of women commonly made among patriarchalists, a description of women I remember hearing often at the Calvary Chapel which is a gender-hierarchical church, a description of women I have heard from members and leaders at Willow Creek, and a description that has even been used in Willow email newsletter announcements to describe women speakers. Patriarchalists commonly use the word “gentle” as a description of women to remind women that they are to be sweet, nice, innocent, pure, soft-spoken, weak, quiet, non-threatening, submissive, subordinate, inferior, and non-authoritative in their demeanor, specifically when addressing men, and most importantly when exercising “strength” before and toward men—this is exactly how Allender made the illustration in his Intimate Mystery Conference. (see my previous article on women and emotiveness which includes links to pertinent research).

Steve’s teaching methodology of narrative

Before detailing Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism we must first look at his teaching methodology of narrative. Steve teaches via narrative. He tells stories and gives examples to illustrate points, so when he teaches he doesn’t always articulate specifically and explicitly what his teaching is. Preachers often employ the narrative when teaching. In fact, Jesus often taught via narrative with his use of parables. The narrative format has become a subtle and subvert way for patriarchalists to teach and model patriarchal principles without being explicit. When Steve taught and modeled patriarchal gender essentialism during the weekend message of September 27 & 28 of 2014 he did so without using the term “gender essentialism” and without specifically stating that men and women are essentially different in how they reflect God’s character. Yet, that is exactly what he taught and modeled using the teaching tool of narrative or story-telling.

Steve and gender essentialism

During the weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve spoke about his daughter and how he sees God thru her. The descriptions Steve verbalized in how his daughter reflects God are: “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”. All five words are typical associated to women in the patriarchal theology of gender essentialism.

“Dancing”, “playing” and “freedom” are associated with women’s care-free way of life for not being in a place of responsibility and decision-making. While the men are working, leading, and stressing over their responsibilities, the women are care-free and able to enjoy life whether it be at the spa or studio in joyful fellowship with their female friends. In another occasion, during the weekend message of May 26, 2013, Steve’s association of women and “dancing” led him to insult, degrade, and patronize the leadership of Miriam by reducing* Miriam’s leadership to no more than a “dancing” cheerleader type of “girl”—and he actually used the word “girl” to describe Miriam who at the time would have been over 80 years old.

“Purity” is a buzz word for the patriarchal sexual purity movement that emphasizes sexual abstinence for girls before marriage, an emphasis of sexual purity that is not always emphasized for boys in patriarchal circles. As for “innocence” coupled with “purity”, a common fantasy, desire, and/or expectation for patriarchal men is to be sexually involved with the hot and sexy women but then settle down and form a family with the “innocent” and “pure” “girl” who the man can bring home to meet the parents. “Purity” and “innocence” are requirements for women looking to be married in patriarchal circles. Egalitarians don’t oppose women associated with dancing, playing, exercising freedom, purity, and innocence. The degradation occurs when these descriptions are used with the purpose to subjugate and incarcerate women into patriarchal gender roles.

To contrast, in the same weekend message Steve mentioned his son and pointed to his athletic aspect of “running”—as opposed to “dancing” used for his daughter. The most grievous contrast Steve made is when he described his son as reflecting God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy. Steve did not mentioned any of these words specifically, except the word “love”, but he taught and modeled this association in narrative form by telling the story of his son expressing “love” for their dog, Bernie. “Love” is a prominent, if not the primary, attribute of God’s righteousness. Grace and mercy are also prominent aspects of God’s righteousness. As mentioned before, the attributes of God’s righteousness are commonly assigned to men in patriarchal gender essentialism and are used to qualify men for leadership while at the same time used to disqualify women for leadership since in their patriarchal understanding of gender essentialism women reflect little to no image of God’s righteousness.

What Steve taught and modeled using narratives about his daughter and son is a patriarchal gender essentialist association of

women with “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”

and

men with God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy

The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism

The attributes of God’s righteousness are considered the primary character traits of God, including but not limited to unconditional love, grace, mercy, compassion, and justice. The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism is to attribute God’s righteousness to primarily or only men and then use that association to acknowledge men as better image bearers of God and therefore elevate men as leaders and make women subordinate to men.

There is nothing inappropriate to associate women with dancing and purity and the like. Just like there is nothing inappropriate to associate men with God’s righteousness. The problem is gender association to the point of exclusivity and then use those associations to decide who is the leader and decision-maker and who is the subordinate. What about emphasizing purity and innocence to the men? Men as much as women need to practice purity and innocence. What about associating women with God’s righteousness and qualifying women for leadership and decision-making roles, inclusive of the area of church doctrine?

Steve mentioned a women’s prayer group, doesn’t that indicate his support of women in leadership?

Toward the end of the same weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve mentioned the role a group of women part of a prayer ministry played in his decision to accept the invitation to be on staff at Willow Creek. At the time of that incident Steve was pastoring at Rock Harbor, a patriarchal church in Southern California. While considering a decision to move to Willow Creek he was challenged by a member in his small group at Rock Harbor to talk to the women in the prayer ministry. Steve spoke to a woman in the prayer group and received confirmation for him to accept Willow Creek’s invitation to be on staff to teach and oversee evangelism at Willow Creek.

In patriarchal churches prayer groups are primarily made up by women. It is not a ministry that carries authority; it is a ministry that serves primarily as support to the male leaders. Prayer ministry takes seriously the biblical mandate to pray for our leaders, and in patriarchal churches those leaders are men. When I was in the Calvary Chapel, a patriarchal church, I attended a prayer meeting led by a pastor’s wife and she spoke a prayer that went something like this, “Lord, we ask you to raise the men in our church to be leaders, to lead our ministries, and to lead our church with boldness and godly character.” There was no prayer for the women to be raised as leaders, the prayer for women went something like this, “…and help and guide us women and wives on how we can be of support to the men as they lead our church.” In patriarchal churches, women in prayer groups practice their patriarchal gender role of assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to the men who are the leaders.

The illustration made by Steve during the said weekend message regarding the women in the prayer group fits this patriarchal gender role for women. An illustration that would have reflected a more egalitarian and mutual view of women as advisors or as decision-makers would have been an illustration of him and his wife discussing the pending decision to move to Willow Creek and together made the decision to move or not. But he didn’t present that illustration, in fact he never spoke about his wife nor her role, if she had any, regarding his decision to accept Willow’s invitation to be on staff. The absence of a dialogue with his wife in the decision-making process, especially for such a significant event, is reflective of a patriarchal marriage. Maybe that dialogue did take place, if it did, he didn’t mention it. At that time during the message, the point Steve was illustrating was how God guides us thru other people, and he chose to mention the women’s prayer group as a confirmation for his staff position at Willow Creek. Steve’s self-promoting and self-validating illustrations during his weekend messages have been occurring since his arrival 2.5 years ago. That is a subject that requires its own space. I will address it in detail in a future article.

To be clear, I am not devaluating prayer ministry; I have high regard for it. I am simply describing how in patriarchal communities the prayer ministry has been reduced* to a place where women practice their gender roles as assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to men in leadership.

What’s next?

In this article I have addressed only Steve Carter’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism as image bearers of God. In future articles I will address Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender roles and his insulting, degrading and patronizing view of women in leadership.

The corrective

I am committed to noting any correctives Steve gives to his teachings. During weekend service of May 24, 2015 Steve gave a short corrective to his patriarchal gender essentialism as detailed above for his weekend message of September 28, 2014. In the May 24, 2015 message he described a woman practicing “forgiveness” toward the man who killed her son. Forgiveness is an attribute of God’s righteousness which Steve associated with a woman. This is not the first time Steve has corrected himself. His more obvious corrections are for his patriarchal and patronizing portrayal of Miriam’s leadership, for his patriarchal blaming of Eve for the Fall, and for his reductionist* teaching on the Holy Spirit (this Midweek message is no longer available on the Willow Creek website). In the near future I plan to write on each of these three problematic messages in detail and note the correctives Steve gave for each.

*Reductionism/Reductionist is defined as the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it. – per Dictionary.com

Edited: 6.18.15

The Great Compromise – Is Willow Creek Community Church Still Egalitarian?

Since I will be writing extensively on the patriarchal elements of my church, Willow Creek, here I present a short summary and comparison of egalitarianism and patriarchy as it relates to my church.

“Willow Creeks says it’s egalitarian, but it doesn’t act like it.”

I had no idea at the time what the warning meant, a warning given to me by a fellow Chicagoan and CBEer (Christians for Biblical Equality). I decided to become a member of Willow Creek anyway; I was hoping the warning was misinformed. At the time I was looking for an egalitarian church and I placed my hope in Willow Creek’s egalitarian roots. I was also drawn by Bill Hybels’ teachings, he not only regularly spoke egalitarian principles and invited egalitarian men and women guests to preach, but he also spoke compassionately about immigrants, that is undocumented immigrants—a rarity among evangelicals. Bill and Lynne’s compassion toward the poor and vulnerable—including the undocumented immigrants in our neighborhoods and in our country—gave me comfort to make Willow Creek my home church. But, the warning still lingered in my mind. The year was 2007.

In time, I have come to find out for myself what the warning meant.

Willow Creek was founded as an egalitarian church—meaning both men and women are full participants in community and in all levels of church leadership. No leadership position was denied to a woman on the sole basis that she is a woman. We’ve had many women as Teaching Pastors, the most recent was Nancy Beach. Nancy is no longer Teaching Pastor nor member of Willow Creek.

Today, Willow still has egalitarian founding members leading the church. Our church has women in all levels of leadership, we have women elders and women in senior positions such as Executive Pastor. Women are always on stage, we have women speak and we have women participate and lead worship. We have women teachers and pastors. We have a strong ministry for local and international dis-empowered women that runs under the umbrella of our Compassion & Justice ministry. All of which communicate to our audience our strong pro-women value.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the patriarchal core.

Patriarchalists differ in the role of women at home and in the church. Some patriarchalists have a more restrictive view, they don’t let women on stage at all nor allow women to hold any type of teaching position. Other patriarchalists have a more expansive view on women in leadership, the women are allowed to teach, lead worship, and hold senior leadership roles alongside the men—as long as the women are not ordained nor hold positions of authority; Tim Keller’s church falls under this type of patriarchal church.

The one restriction that all patriarchalists adhere to is that women cannot have any position of authority over men regarding doctrine. This translates to women denied positions of Senior Pastor, Elder, Teaching Pastor, or any other position that carries with it authority and decision-making responsibly of doctrine over the whole church. This core belief is non-negotiable for patriarchalists, this core belief is what defines modern day patriarchy, this core belief puts men over women in defining and settling disputes regarding scripture—in many cases, it puts men over women in settling any dispute what so ever. Defining and settling what scripture states and ultimately what God says and who God is on behalf of the community of believers, and respective biological families, becomes a decision made only by men.

The patriarchal core within Willow Creek

Despite our pro-women advocacy, Willow Creek has a patriarchal core in its leadership. We have no women Teaching Pastors. The women teachers are in children, women, care or financial ministries—all ministries which are acceptable to the patriarchalists who adhere to the expansive view. We have one woman in one of the satellite churches who teaches bible and doctrine to adult women and men, she has a master’s degree in biblical studies. However, she has no title and is a volunteer, she is not a paid staff member. At another satellite, and in the last year or so, a woman has been hired to oversee discipleship. However, her title is not “teacher” nor “pastor”. Her title is “director”, which is an acceptable title for expansive patriarchalists. The women who speak from the South Barrington stage speak only to give administrative announcements and to participate in drama and music ministries—all ministries acceptable to expansive patriarchalists. We have one or two women each year give a weekend message. For the last three years that Midweek bible teachings have been under the supervision of our new Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter who replaced Nancy Beach, and under his leadership we’ve had no women teachers at Midweek. However, he has brought to Midweek patriarchal guest teachers who lead patriarchal churches, some of which are his friends and one of them is scheduled to speak at the Global Leadership Summit in 2015.

Our Executive Pastor is a woman, but her responsibilities are administrative, not doctrinal—an acceptable role for expansive patriarchalists. We have women pastors in the Compassion & Justice ministry—also another ministry expansive patriarchalists are accepting of women in leadership since they categorize this ministry as a care ministry with no authority or decision-making responsibilities over the church’s doctrine.

The only women in our church who have doctrinal oversight are our women elders. However, their role is limited and weakened when “ensuring the church’s teachings and practices reflect accurate biblical theology“. The elder board runs as a governance/policy board and they “delegate to qualified others” many of their responsibilities, including doctrinal responsibility, to paid staff members. Expansive patriarchalists are accepting of women as advisors but not as decision-makers when it comes to doctrine; so, moving to a governance board appeals to expansive patriarchalists because it removes decision-making responsibilities from the elders, specifically women elders, and places those responsibilities on the paid senior staff members who currently are all men who address church doctrine. Even if the board were to not delegate it’s doctrinal responsibilities, the only woman elder who has the gift of teaching is someone whose experience in teaching is financial stewardship, not church doctrine. Based on the brief biographical portraits made public for each elder, it’s impossible to recognize which, if any, elder has the capability to address heresy, specifically heresy propagated by [some] patriarchalists such as the Heresy of [Christological] Subordinationism.

Patriarchalists infiltrating Willow Creek

For years we’ve had patriarchalists infiltrate our church in staff and even in senior leadership positions. I will be writing extensively on those senior leaders I know who teach and advocate patriarchalism and will provide public information by referencing sermons or documents on Willow Creek’s website. I will not disclose information given to me in confidence, which means I will not be writing about all the patriarchalists I am aware of, only of the ones I am able to publicly speak or write about. I have plenty of public information and personal experiences which I will write about that point to patriarchal aspects in our church’s leadership.

Shane Farmer, our former Director of Discipleship, was one of those who deceptively subverted our church’s egalitarian position and taught patriarchalism. Fortunately, he is no longer at Willow Creek; unfortunately, he is senior pastor of a church in Denver, Colorado. I will write a few observations of his subversive methodologies which he employed to teach and model patriarchalism; his methodologies are important to observe because they are actually common among patriarchalists who try to subvert-ly and deceptively infiltrate egalitarian institutions. I am aware of a few egalitarians who raised concerns over Shane’s patriarchal teachings and coupled with his disregard of corrective measures and lack of submission to his superior(s) no doubt played a role in his departure.

Starting with the departure of Shane Farmer and more so in recent months, I have observed that Willow Creek’s senior leadership is increasing its efforts to recognize and correct patriarchalism in our midst, starting from the top. Currently, patriarchalism and even forms of scriptural inaccuracies are traced to our current Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter. As stated previously, in the three years Steve has been at Willow Creek and overseeing Midweek teachings, he has not invited any women teachers but has invited several male patriarchalists to teach. And even though Steve has corrected many of his own patriarchal and inaccurate teachings—no doubt under instruction and correction of his supervisor(s)—he manages to continue to promote forms of patriarchalism in his messages. As Teaching Pastor he plays a significant role in the teaching of doctrine and appears to be first in line to take the senior pastorate after Bill Hybels retires. His position as Teaching Pastor, patriarchal tendencies and deficiencies in understanding scripture have made Steve Carter the primary person I will be writing about in this website.

If Willow Creek were perceived as a patriarchal church, then I would not be writing about Steve Carter nor any other patriarchal aspects at Willow. I would not even be a member of this church. It is because Willow Creek is perceived as an egalitarian church and because I became a member with the understanding that it still is an egalitarian church, despite the warning, that I will be writing extensively about Steve Carter and other patriarchal elements at Willow Creek.

We as egalitarians must come to terms that a church that is egalitarian in perception and on its cover but is patriarchal at its core, is a church that is not egalitarian, but patriarchal. It is a pro-woman and benevolent patriarchal church, at best; but not an egalitarian church.

By accident or by Choice?

Did the current patriarchal core at Willow Creek come about by accident or by choice? Both.

By accident, the lack of discernment and training among staff to distinguish between egalitarian and patriarchal, specifically hierarchical-complementarian, teachings and practices has allowed patriarchalism to infiltrate Willow Creek and even be accepted as ‘egalitarian’. Such is the deceptive aspect of benevolent patriarchy known as hierarchical-complementarianism as advocated by gender-hierarchicalists among the New Calvinists and also most recently among the emergent.

By choice, Willow Creek believes in the fellowship of egalitarians and patriarchalists to worship together as one church. However, to patriarchalists women in senior leadership who have authority and decision-making responsibilities regarding doctrine that affects adult males is a serious offence to their patriarchal doctrine. It’s an offense they are not willing to bend on. Having a patriarchal core at Willow Creek’s leadership is an appeal to patriarchalists as a way to avoid offending their patriarchal doctrine. But as stated earlier, an egalitarian church on the outside with a patriarchal core is not an egalitarian church, but a pro-woman and benevolent patriarchal church at best—and that is an ambiguous and deceptive concept.

Composing a patriarchal core in an egalitarian church in order to appeal to patriarchalists is what I refer to as “The Great Compromise” at Willow Creek.

This is the message, in my own words, that Willow Creek is sending to the women by us having a pro-women and benevolent look with a patriarchal core:

Girls, ladies, women,

We at Willow Creek love you. We love our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters. We know the pain and suffering you are going thru. The world has been violently cruel to you. You can find safety and encouragement in our church from the harsh reality of your everyday life. We seek to empower you and release you to do good works God has prepared for you in advance, here and abroad, for his kingdom and for his glory. And, we will do everything we can to teach the men to cover you and protect you.

However, none of you, not a single one of you, will ever be good enough, mature enough, righteous enough, knowledgeable enough, worthy enough to stand next to our men in a position of authority and decision-making over church doctrine. When it comes time to decide what the bible says, who God is, what God wants us to do as a body of believers, and to disseminate that information to the whole church, and your respective biological families, that decision will be made by only men. You women, not a single one of you, will be part of that decision-making process.

Edited: 6.17.15

“We women are too emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.”

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“We women are emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.”

According to the senior pastor’s wife at a Calvary Chapel (a gender-hierarchical church influenced by New Calvinism), “we women are emotional, that’s why we can’t be leaders.” This was in the 1990s, but today emotiveness is still used to disqualify women from leadership, even in egalitarian churches that have been heavily influenced by the gender-hierarchicalists and New Calvinists such as my church, Willow Creek Community Church.

At my church, emotiveness has been used to disqualify women from leadership, but not men. Egalitarians are known to be passionate about their mission to dismantle patriarchy and this passion is easily mistaken for bossiness, emotiveness, anger, bitterness and the like and are quickly dismissed for leadership. Passionate egalitarian women in my church have been advised to get mental health therapy.

We currently have a teaching pastor who has a strong and passionate voice projection. Many people are actually turned off by it because it is interpreted as scolding, demeaning and emotive. However, many more people are attracted to it because he sounds authoritative, not bossy, emotive, angry, or retaliatory, but strong and authoritative.

Many a person in my church who is turned off by a passionate egalitarian during a one-on-one conversation is drawn by a strong, loud voiced preacher from the stage. When an egalitarian principle is taught, the teacher is accused of pushing a political agenda. Ultimately, for the patriarchalists and pseudo- and neo-egalitarians the offense from the egalitarians is not in the voice projection, format, or medium of the message but the offense is in the message itself, in the message of mutuality and equality between men and women.

Back to the subject of women and emotiveness…

Gender-hierarchicalists encourage and even enforce women to be “gentle in spirit”, that is, gentle and soft spoken in word and attitude and personality—so they won’t be judged as emotive or bossy or incompetent or threatening. The hypocrisy and double standard of this belief is that at the same time, they encourage and value the strong authoritative voice of men, which they recognize as an essential trait of leadership and do not perceive as emotive, bossy, weak, or inferior. Therefore, women are disqualified from leadership because they are expected and required to be gentle and soft-spoken, which automatically prevents them from possessing the strong authoritative projection expected from a leader. Therefore, the requirement imposed on women to be gentle in spirit becomes a tool to keep them from leadership. (See article in Psychology Today on the “soft spoken” woman. See also article with endnote links, “Research Reveals How Stereotypes About Leadership Hold Women Back“)

There is one exception when [some] gender-hierarchicalists accept a woman with a strong voice—whether she’s preaching the gospel to the non-believer or running as a Republican vice-presidential nominee—when the woman PROVES HER SUBMISSION TO HER HUSBAND , or to her male authority figure, and she must do so prior to approval to speak by the [male] gender-hierarchicalists. At the Calvary Chapel I attended, I observed egalitarian women with a strong voice be categorized as non-submissive and even bossy. At the same time a gender-hierarchical woman with a strong voice was permitted to do ministry and even lead ministry as she pleased—that’s because she had proven her submission to men by verbally acknowledging that the men are the leaders who have authority and that she herself as a woman has no authority except the authority given to her by the male leaders. The egalitarian women had not made such a confession of the trickle down man-to-woman model of authority. Even though the egalitarian women believed in submission to authority and practiced it, because they didn’t confess to the trickle down man-to-woman model they were either barred or limited in their leadership involvement, in addition to being ostracized by the leadership team. During this season of events and due to the treatment of [some] egalitarian women, in solidarity over five egalitarian women and their families left the church. All of these women and most of their husbands who left had been in significant leadership roles.

To require a strong authoritative voice as a key trait of leadership disqualifies mature* women from leadership and enables churches to replace these qualified women with immature men who are not qualified to be leaders nor teachers.

*Mature/maturity is defined as the wise application of biblical knowledge and understanding; a person’s character that reflects the fruits of the Spirit and the aspects of righteousness of God, and builds up the church and facilitates life into the community so the church may fulfill its intended purpose set by God.

The following event took place at my church, Willow Creek—a church founded on strong egalitarian principles but in recent year has been strongly influenced by patriarchal infiltrations. The names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Janet and Dana are both active members and volunteers at my church, Janet was telling me that Dana has the gift of teaching. At the time, I had not met Dana so I asked Janet to explain to me what it is that makes her say Dana has the gift of teaching. Janet never mentioned Dana’s understanding of scripture; she only described Dana’s strong voice projection. I immediately realized that Janet’s understanding of teaching and leadership requires a strong voice projection—a requirement many people expect from a leader to the extent that understanding of scripture is secondary or not required at all.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the current practice of placing a man with a strong authoritative voice in a position of leadership or teaching even though he consistently shows a high degree of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and misapplication of scripture that is hurtful and destructive to the life of the community. To require a strong authoritative voice as key trait of leadership disqualifies mature women from leadership and enables churches to replace these qualified women with immature men who are not qualified to be leaders nor teachers. Such a practice is extremely dangerous for Christian community and biblical understanding because such a practice enables immature leaders to create their own ‘gospel’ —which is no gospel at all.

The teaching pastor at my church once stated, “God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Jesus had followers who were peasants without formal biblical education and he prepared them both on 1) scriptural understanding and application and in 2) God-ly character and he did so with his disciples in silence before his disciples were released as leaders to speak about Christ and the gospel. Later and still today, the Holy Spirit continues what Jesus started to help the believers understand and apply scripture and reflect God’s character. God does not place in leadership a person who is arrogant or weak in scriptural knowledge because these traits are clear biblical dis-“qualify”-cations for leadership and teaching. Sure God qualifies the called, but the called is not placed in a position of leadership until he or she has met in silence the qualifications required to be a leader who speaks about Christ and the gospel.

A called person in a place of leadership is someone who has already met qualifications on biblical understanding and application and God-ly character. Paul’s ministry trajectory is another example of learning in silence before being released to speak about Christ and the gospel. Even though Paul was a highly respected biblical scholar as a Pharisee, after he converted to Christianity he spent three to fourteen year in quietness before he was released as an apostle. Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, had to meet the biblical understanding and application and also the God-ly character requirements before he was released to speak about Christ and the gospel as a leader in the church. All leaders in the church have to meet those two requirements before appointed as leaders.

Mark Driscoll’s ministry trajectory is an example of the devastating effects a leader and his church has on the community when one or both of those requirements are not met. The subject of character, specifically in the form of arrogance and deceit, has been highlighted as the main reason for Driscoll’s fall in ministry. Unfortunately, his own elders didn’t consider Driscoll’s character flaws valid reasons to remove him from leadership. In many Christian circles arrogance is not considered a character flaw deserving the disqualification of a man from leadership, even though arrogance/pride is what made Lucifer and one third of the angels fall from heaven. Regarding Driscoll’s theology, his theology is patriarchal and misogynistic which provides the food and nourishment to his arrogant, prideful, and deceitful character. (See Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth, 1 Corinthians, to read on how Paul addresses leadership, maturity, scriptural and gospel knowledge and aspects of character among the members and the leaders.)

Patriarchalists like to use Kind David as an example of a man weak in character who was used by God in a leadership capacity to show patience and acceptance of a man in church leadership who has flaws in character. What these patriarchalists fail to recognize is that King David would have failed Paul’s qualifications for ministry. King David’s 500 wives is one reason he would not have qualified to lead a church. We cannot point to the character of an Old Testament leader who has been highly influenced by the patriarchal practices of his neighbors and make that character the source for comparison or approval of church leaders with flawed character. The New Testament leadership qualifications have higher standards and are free of patriarchal influence, in many respects they correct Old Testament character flaws that infiltrated into the people of God when the people embraced the practices of their patriarchal neighbors. By the way, King David’s character flaws and the similar character flaws in his heir son, King Solomon, facilitated the breakup of the kingdom, so his character flaws eventually did have grievous consequences for the people of God.

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What are some ways that we can address leadership trait expectations among members of our congregations and leadership in order to expand the church’s embrace of mature women as leaders in all capacities and avoid the danger of placing immature men in leadership?

Edited: 6.15.2015

Smart, Not Smarter

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After a movie, two single friends, Robert and Elsa, are having dinner at a restaurant (their names have been changed to protect their identity):

Robert: Women today are so dense! I would very much like to meet someone with half a brain.

Elsa: Would you like to meet a woman with more than half a brain?

Robert: [puzzled by Elsa’s question] But, of course. I meant to say AT LEAST half a brain.

Elsa: How about a woman with a full brain?

Robert: [even more puzzled and unsure where Elsa was going with her line of questioning] Uhm, sure. I would like her to be smart, if that’s what you mean.

Elsa: How smart?

Robert: [casually shrugging his shoulders] However smart she is will be fine by me.

Elsa: How do you see the two of you interacting when an important decision would need to be made?

Robert: We would talk about it and together we would make a decision.

Elsa: If during the discussion she would make a suggestion about the final decision and you found her suggestion to be wise, then you would go along with it?

Robert: Oh sure, absolutely!

Elsa: What if you two found yourselves making more decisions based on her suggestions than on your suggestions? Would you be ok with that?

Robert: [pensive and after a few seconds] No. I wouldn’t.

Elsa: Why not?

Robert: Because that would undermine my role as the leader and it would emasculate me. As the leader, I need to be the one doing more of the decision-making for us.

Elsa: So, you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?

Robert: [with a deeply pensive and sad and disappointed and shocked look on his face and facing downward toward the table] No. I guess not…

“So, [Robert] you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?”

Elsa was able to get Robert to confess what so many people, men, pseudo-egalitarians, neo-egalitarians and even some egalitarians are not willing to acknowledge. A smart woman is preferred over a dense woman, just like a smart man is preferred over a dense man. The difference is that society places limits on women’s—but not on men’s—intellect in dating, marriage, and the church, both consciously and subconsciously. This limit is one that girls learn to “submit” to at an early age when they start to become interested in boys. A limit that women place on themselves as adults when they dumb themselves down in order to accommodate men like Robert. A limit in intelligence, wisdom, and giftedness advocated by gender-hierarchicalists who instruct women to “step-down” so the men can “step-up” both in the home and in the church.

A smart woman is preferred, but she cannot be smarter than the man.

In order for the woman to accomplish such a feat she must regularly monitor herself to not surpass the man who is the reference point of her limits. Sadly, far too many women find themselves in this predicament in dating, in marriage, and in the church. In fact, women carry this self-monitored debasement with them into the workforce and society at large. Not to mention, the media does a superb job in reminding women and setting expectations of their place as the inferior sex and serving as partner to the patriarchal church in debasing women so that men may rise and remain dominant.

At the time when Robert and Elsa had the above conversation they were attending a gender-hierarchical church, a Calvary Chapel in Los Angeles county, where the following event took place. A male member of the church, who was also an elder, just graduated from a well known university in Southern California where he received the honor of the top student in the school of engineering. The senior pastor dedicated a Sunday service to teach on the value of this man’s accomplishments and the significance of his witness and evangelism as Christians live out their faith before the world. The following year, the same honor of top engineering student from the same university was awarded to a member of their church. What are the odds of that?! Certainly, the senior pastor would have topped his sermon from the previous year now that two of their church members had received the top engineering student honor. However, there was no sermon. There was not even a mention from the senior pastor or from anyone on stage during the church service of the second student who had received the same scholastic honor. There was only a quiet celebration party for the second student at a nearby coffeehouse and the senior pastor and his wife showed up for a few minutes. Why the disparity?

The second award winner was a woman.

A double-standard of praise was clearly at work, and even research on the subject confirms that society’s patriarchal conditioning leads people to give praise to men and deny it to women even on identical accomplishments.

This gender-hierarchical church has a history of struggles with educated and intellectual members on many fronts. First, women could not be “smarter” than men because the men would feel “emasculated” and their authority would be at risk of being usurped by the women. Second, intellectual women could not be publicly praised because other women in the church, particularly stay at home wives and moms (many of whom had no education beyond high school—if that) would “feel bad about themselves”. Third, educated and intellectual men and women, were advised to not freely discuss their backgrounds when meeting new people because “people’s jobs do not define who they are”. This principle is a great point, but the underlying reason was to avoid making the non-educated members and visitors “feel bad about themselves.” Of course, this advice was selectively dismissed by the pastor when he publicly praised the male honor student, then chose to abide by it one year later when he kept silent about the female honor student.

Perhaps, the pastor did not intend to practice a double standard of praise and chose to not publicly praise the female honor student for numerous of valid reasons. Perhaps after his public praise of the male honor student he received negative feedback and was reminded of the principle to not make people “feel bad about themselves” on the subject of education and intellect. On the other hand, members in the church practiced various forms of double standards regarding education and intellect between men and women as already mentioned above, such as the requirement that the women could not be “smarter” than the men in order to avoid emasculating the men and avoid usurping the leadership of men, such were the concerns of Robert and he was not unique.

Consider this detail that indicates the senior pastor in most likelihood chose to practice a double standard of praise. In fact, this additional detail, to some extent, aligns the senior pastor with Robert. Both the senior pastor and his wife attended the quiet celebration party for the female honor student. The senior pastor’s wife showed up thrilled and her bright smile made it clear she was a proud ‘mama’ of the female honor student. She stayed for an extended amount of time in joyous fellowship with the party attendees. The senior pastor, on the other hand, did not have the same enthusiastic and proud smile. He greeted the attendees, congratulated the honor student, and remained in the party only a few minutes not interacting much—which was not his typical personality. Maybe he had other business to attend to? Maybe he felt guilty because he had not publicly praised the accomplishments of the female honor student as he did the prior year when he praised the accomplishments of the male honor student? Maybe, he felt awkward in comparison to such a brilliant woman? Actually, that is quite common among men particularly in gender-hierarchical churches, including male pastors in comparison to their female congregants. It is that awkwardness in men that drives women to debase themselves. It is that awkwardness in men that requires women to not be as ‘smart’ as men. By the way, the female honor student went on to perform even greater accomplishments in the field of science…and she no longer attends that church.

Now what?

People in marriages and churches frequently navigate educational and intellectual differences in a healthy way that does not create separation, division, or inferiority. Instead, they practice mutual praise, admiration, and support. Unfortunately, others do not navigate educational and intellectual differences well and as a result, division and even antagonism is fostered.

What are the key character traits that help us stay in loving community with people who are different from ourselves and allow us to foster an environment where everyone in the group is valued?

Edited: 6.15.2015