I’ve only been following Jesus for about five years, and I can honestly say that there’s no way I would have decided to give him my life had I known that this big, fat, ugly debate was taking place on such a large scale in the Church. I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with a faith that disempowered or limited me based on my gender. I hadn’t read the bible then, so I wouldn’t have been able to sort out the issue for myself. I would have assumed based on the heated arguments surrounding me that God couldn’t use me as much as he could use a man. It wouldn’t have mattered that there were two camps. The greatness of the debate would have led me to believe that by choosing Jesus, I would become less valuable, less free, and less empowered. And I would have said no to a life with God.
This bothers me. A lot. First, because I love Jesus, and I can’t imagine living a life without him. He saved me when I desperately needed saving, and he has been transforming me from the inside out ever since. I’m still a hot mess—I think we all are, really—but now I wake up knowing I am radically loved and adored by the one who made me. That doesn’t mean life isn’t horribly hard, confusing, and exhausting, but knowing who you belong to makes you an overcomer. He makes me brave. He empowers me to risk boldly, to live fully, and run confidently in the direction of my dreams. I wouldn’t trade my adventure with God for anything in the world. It’s been wild, beautiful, messy, and totally awe-inspiring.
I can’t imagine going back to searching for love in all the wrong places. I can’t imagine being totally unaware of the tangible presence of God. I can’t imagine not talking to him. I can’t imagine not being with him. I can’t imagine not knowing him. His voice. His beauty. His grace. His glory. The freedom and life that only he can offer. At the end of the day, I can’t imagine not being in a relationship with the One who created me. But the truth of the matter is, had I known about this Great Debate, I wouldn’t be.
As tragic as that is, it’s not what bothers me most. I’m more concerned with what the implications of The Great Debate might be for women who don’t know Jesus. Especially two types of women who don’t know Jesus: women who know with confidence that they are of equal value and standing to the men around them, especially those in leadership positions with influence and authority; and women who are continually dismissed, devalued, and dehumanized because of their gender, especially those who have been silenced and abused by men in positions of power and authority.
I think it’s unlikely that these women would choose to follow a God who only calls and empowers men to lead and make decisions while asking women to sit back and submit silently. And that is heartbreaking. For them, because that is not our God, and because there is freedom, healing, hope, and redemption that awaits them in life with Jesus. And for the Church, because these women have so very much to offer. They were created for more—they were created to usher in the Kingdom with us. We need their strength, their leadership, and their influence. We need their resilience and their hope. We need their perspective, their story, and their voice. We need their experience, their talents, and their skills. We need their spiritual gifts and their God-given passions. We need their minds and their hearts. We need everything they have to offer and everything they were created to be.
Whenever I hear about these “hot issues” and “great debates” in the Church, these things that we just can’t agree on, my heart breaks for the people outside the family who are missing out on life with Jesus because somehow we think these technicalities are more important than they are.
It blows my mind and it breaks my heart that this is where our minds are fixed. Perhaps for you it makes sense to argue and debate the details of scripture. Maybe you’ve been a part of this family your whole life, you grew up in the church, you’re involved in the church, you studied theology, and this is just your world. It’s easy to get caught up in our own little world. Please hear me: I am not trying to undermine the importance of scripture. I am not saying it doesn’t deserve our attention, our study, and our practice. But Jesus didn’t spend time debating religious rules. He was far more concerned with healing the sick and feeding the hungry. Instead of focusing on technicalities, Jesus was busy looking for and loving on the lost and the broken.
James is right. Our attention is better focused on the non-negotiables. Not the fuzzy, overcomplicated, and wildly confusing statements in the Bible that wreck this family like a divorce, forcing us to take sides and pinning us against one another.
When we get caught up in the debates, our focus becomes far too narrow. As a result, those outside the church walls are forgotten. The more we look in, the less we touch, love, and transform the lives of those on the outside. We become the very thing standing in the way of God writing their redemption story. In addition, the Kingdom suffers the catastrophic loss of more and more of its builders and champions.
Because I am relatively new to the family, I’m still becoming aware of the hot issues and great debates in the Church. When I hear the chatter, when I see the intensity we pour into the debate, when I watch the way we argue with, condemn, and insult the other side, I can’t help but ask myself: “Had I seen, heard, and known this in the beginning, would I have a relationship with Jesus today?” My answer is almost always no. And that is something I’m just not okay with.