This post is part of my series on the 2014 Gay Christian Network conference. EEWC-Christian Feminism Today is partnering with GCN to present GCN’s 2014 weconnect Women’s Retreat. Complete information on the conference can be found here. My introduction to the conference and the weconnect Women’s Retreat can be found here.
Earlier this week I introduced you to Reverend Audrey Connor, the featured presenter for the 2014 GCN weconnect Women’s Retreat. Audrey and I corresponded via email early in December. She graciously provided thoughtful answers to my questions. I posted the first segment of our three part interview yesterday, this is the second. My questions are in bold, Audrey’s answers are in regular type.
Audrey, I loved this line you wrote, “I realize the irony of ministry is that after you learn what gifts you have, then you have to learn to give them away.” Beautifully said. I think that’s the irony of life itself.
That’s why I’m not hip on all this “commit your life to Jesus” stuff people throw at children and teens. The young people haven’t even learned what life is, and already someone is pressuring them to give it away. How hard is it giving away something you don’t really even know?
But the same request takes on much more meaning when you are older. When you have fully experienced what your life could be, when you have realized what lives other people have (with things and money and fame), then is the time to ask someone to give all that to God. That’s when you’ll get a real answer, because that’s when you’ll know what may have to be surrendered.
My thoughts: true enough! So much of life is about learning who you are. To tell you the truth, I did not grow up in the evangelical church where there is pressure to have a “born again” experience. I wasn’t asked to emotionally and spiritually give my life up to God. I think that is what you are referring to. But it is still interesting to me.
Often I think about attending church camp at Camp Christian in Ohio as a middle school kid. It is one of the strongest camp programs in our denomination (Disciples of Christ). While we did not do “altar calls” as a ritual, we did have spiritually powerful consecration services every Friday night—they were the culmination of each week. I remember the tears that were shed every Friday night by both counselors and campers. The ethos that was created was one of unconditional love, and many of the kids cried to say good-bye for the year to those positive camp relationships where God’s love was shown through everyone present.
At least that is what I thought as a kid. As I get older, I wonder if there is not just some hormonal thing at work for pubescent kids!
I realize that my camp experience may parallel more evangelical camp and retreat experiences. I think there is probably one big difference, though, and that is the existence of hell (I was raised without an understanding that I needed to be “saved” because God loves us all). I think we do kids a disservice when we ask them to give everything to God before they really know what “everything” is.
When I baptize people into Christian faith, I try to instill that the commitment they make is a life-long commitment of discovering and offering. We Disciples do “believers baptism,” which means usually we baptize kids after a baptism class, around 5th grade or so.
The truth is that whether you say you want to be a Christian at age 12 or age 36, you still don’t understand the commitment you are making. But at some point, you have to begin.
I notice you are careful to use inclusive language. Do you ever use gendered pronouns to refer to God? Does your concept of God include gender? Why is the use of inclusive language important to you?
I am careful to use inclusive language of God for many reasons.
First and foremost, I think male pronouns can get in the way, blocking some people who do not identify with God as a male from being able to take in my words.
Second, my understanding is that the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) does not use much gendered language for God. The gendered pronouns pop up a lot more in the New Testament. The most compelling example is when Jesus prays to his daddy – Abba. As I understand that scriptural term, Jesus was trying to demonstrate His direct line to God, and God’s immanent presence.
Finally, what strikes me most throughout scripture is the portrayal that God is too great to be named, even as God is so very close to us. In fact, when Moses asked God for God’s name, God responds, “I am who I am.” In Hebrew, YAHWEH can be also interpreted in the past or future tense, thus: “I will be who I will be,” or “I was who I was!”
God defies names. We Christians like to assign God a lot of names – maybe to have power over God. Many of us understand God as triune – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Others of us equate Jesus with God – wonderful counselor, prince of peace, Mighty God, Emmanuel. But to me, all these names not only define God but limit God as well.
Most of the names we use for God are masculine. I do not think that is because God is masculine only. I think it has a lot to do with a human patriarchal history, one in which the power rested in the hands of men, and these humans have tried to define God.
There is strong feminine imagery of God in the Bible that is often overlooked or ignored. Sophia (or “wisdom”) was in the beginning with God.
I have heard some theologians say that to take away gender completely is to do a disservice because God is in our sexuality and our gender. We certainly do not want to neuter God.
When I am preaching, I like to either use only inclusive language for God or try to use both genders. My purpose is to remind people that our limited understanding of gender limits God, and God has no limits.
What do you think will have to change before women and LGBT ministers have equal opportunities for employment in the church?
This is a difficult question.
I commented on this in my reflections after our denomination passed a tepid resolution that extends grace and welcome to all people in the denominations regardless of orientation or identity. I asked the rhetorical question in that post, “Is this as good as it gets?” And my answer is yes. But it is not good enough.
From a systems point of view, I believe that resolution was as far as the Disciples of Christ could go. But it is not enough to change congregations (or a nation) where hearts and minds are more frequently exposed to fear-inducing misinformation than they are the love of God.
On one hand, there is a zeitgeist or a kairos moment happening in our country around gay rights. On the other hand, I frequently meet people who tell me that the second coming of Christ is happening now, “because of all the sin.” I think they are usually referring to marriage equality spilling through the whole country. I suspect the number of states (15 states and the District of Columbia) that allow gay marriage will continue to grow, until all 50 states are on board. I am hopeful.
But will the churches step in line?
Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated hour in America. And while more and more people are changing, I believe the church usually lags at least 50 years behind.
The good news for GLBTQI ministers is the bad news for the church – the churches are dying. It is bad news, but it gives church leaders a chance to decide what is really important. And if a church has enough courage and insight, it gives them a chance to be born again into the 21st century.
I think the days of being a minister as a career are numbered, even for straight, white men. The truth is that the church is on shaky ground even for those at the center. But the good news is that walking over shaky ground often leads us to find more sure footing with God.
As the church loses its people and its power in the public arena, it will gain perspective and come to understand how important it is to proclaim the Good News to those on the margins— especially the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and questioning people they have hurt the worst.
Related Content on Where She Is:
And There Was Singing (Sunday)
Rachel Held Evans’ Presentation Summary (Saturday)
We are Broken (Friday)
There Will be Some Tears (Thursday)
weconnect – Introduction to GCN Board Chairperson Susan Shopland
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Susan Shopland, Part 2
weconnect – Introduction to Featured Speaker Reverend Audrey Connor
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 1
weconnect – Interview with Audrey Connor, Part 3
Introduction to the Gay Christian Network’s weconnect Women’s Retreat