Guest Post by Kate Hanch, Ph.D. Student in Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Claiborne (Source: genxrising.com)
Claiborne (Source: genxrising.com)

When I first saw the post about Shane Claiborne and Epiphaneia creating a conference with the proceeds going to a The Mark Driscoll Scholarship Fund for Women in Ministry, I thought “Well, that’s a creative way to do it.”

I realize this idea is very provisional. But the more I read about it, the more I felt uneasy. I say this as a female minister who has spoken about issues related to women in ministry here and here. I say this as a woman who has been bullied by complementarians and egalitarians alike. And, I speak as a graduate student who could use the money for tuition.

Don’t get me wrong—I strongly value the need for attention to the lack of and treatment of female pastors. Many men don’t see this as applying to them, and thus tend to not speak up on the issue. And I admire how Claiborne and Epiphaneia have continually been a prophetic voice in a wide range of justice issues. I even appreciate the humor. (After all, I’ve seen Weird Al twice in concert).

Driscoll (Source: liveactionnews.org)
Driscoll (Source: liveactionnews.org)

I’m not worried about Mark Driscoll’s feelings. In fact, he needs to and should be critiqued. The complementarianism that he advocates is unbiblical and harmful. Many women’s gifts have been dismissed, and women have been implicitly degraded to a second-class status because of his teachings.

But I do wonder in what ways women are instrumentalized in the naming of this scholarship. Yes, it’s intended to shock, provoke, and cause controversy. But do women in ministry have to be surrounded by controversy, perpetuated by male figures, in order to receive attention?

Here’s why I’m uneasy about it:

As of the time of this writing, I’m unaware in what ways women contributed to the discussion and naming of the scholarship. Even if they did in a fruitful and equal way, I’m still uneasy. There are ways in which people can have good intentions about change, but implicitly underneath, structures remain the same about who has the power to validate. The photo of all men that accompanied the post, along with the name-drops of Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, made me wonder if it could be only men who validate women.

For some women the name “Mark Driscoll or “complementarianism” can evoke real and painful emotions. Women who have left this movement often still hold friendships or familial ties with those who do. They want to navigate how to live out their callings and still be in those relationships. It’s easier said than done. A scholarship with his name could trigger painful memories. The discussion of complementarianism evokes upsetting and painful memories in me.

To establish a scholarship for women doesn’t totally solve the problem. In my Baptist context, women are lamenting that although they are welcomed in seminaries, and even receive preaching and pastoral awards; they aren’t receiving calls from churches. While this is slowly changing, some women leave the denomination for what they perceive to be better horizons. Even denominations that appoint women generally do so to smaller, struggling churches. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it does show where the power really belongs. Scholarships may help women get through seminary, but there needs to be a rethinking of what church means in order for women to actually be called.  How does the church, in the terms of Ada María Isasi-Díaz, reflect the kin-dom of God?

I see objectification of women in this. In other words, I see women in ministry as “instruments”, per se, for a larger purpose of the name itself. Both complementarians and egalitarians are guilty of this. Complementarians are more obvious. Subtly, egalitarians may reference a scattering of women in leadership and thereby claim their inclusivity. Or, they may have one woman speaker at a conference, and tout it as a diverse group. (Women of color are especially vulnerable to this tokenism). I perceived the conference that Claiborne and Epiphaneia put on have equal numbers of men and women (although to my knowledge, I didn’t see persons of color in the presentations listed).

In what way does this honor God and humanity? The early church figure Irenaeus suggests that the glory of God is humanity fully alive. This means that it is humanity flourishing in every way possible, including women pastors. Does this scholarship allow women to be “fully alive”, to practice their gifts, to think of new and creative ways to pastor and nurture the church? Does this scholarship really honor women as full images of God?

I encourage the efforts of Claiborne and Epiphaneia to help foster a more just and righteous church (in the Greek, the word is the same) and call attention to a painful problem for many women. I am grateful for their stance. I caution them to think carefully of how they proceed in this to reimagine what the church looks like where everyone has equal say and participation. There can be goodness in this, and I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

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