It is not giving up power to accuse those who leave a church of losing any authority or stepping outside of the kingdom of God. That is using power to manipulate and guilt people into submission.
This is the second post reflecting on Julie Clawson's recent FB status. If you missed my first post it is here. Julie is reacting to white men who want us to follow their way of life in the kingdom of God. "Real" community for them is bound up in a tightly connected dynamic of death to self and submission to a local church.
3. The challenge of not conflating God's authority exclusively with death to self, submission and the local church.
I think this is where one of the deepest disconnects occur. This is where proponents of the tight connection between death to self and submission to communal discernment with some rich communal history (like say, anabaptist) put forth some radical sounding statements concerning authority.
Let me set forth two recent statements by a proponent of this posture:
1. "it is my belief that the issues are discerned in local active discerning communities, and one's voice arises from there and gains its credibility from there."
2. "Too often "I am a prophet" is used as the means to escape accountability within a community of faith. I agree that NT prophets have accountability within the Christian community, and I am convinced, prophets in the OT, despite being marginalized by a rebellious Israel, were still accountable within that tradition. They had the long term accountability within their commitment to israel as God's chosen instrument,had to speak within the trajectory of the Hebrew Scriptures ."
Of course, women (and minorities) who know the history of abuse, mistreatment, violence and Niebuhrian pride by Christian men overpowering women in marriage, church, and society during every period of this tradition would immediately recoil. They react to this proponent's insistence that "death to self" and "submission" has communal centrality and women should accountable within the history of that tradtion.
No Christian tradition has a rich, robust, equal-regarding, dignity-affirming communal history on women dating back to Jesus. Jesus opened the door to dignity affirming, equal-regarding relationships/friendships with women. But from then on tradition is rife with mistreatment and abuse and coercion.
Proponents of "communal discernment" want women to hear that there is rich communal individual flourishing within the overall tradition. These proponents immediately appeal to free-wheeling individuals in contemporary society to augment their argument for tight-knight submission and accountability. People who are seemingly a voice of authority with no immediate indication or credibility they've submitted themselves to immediate communal discernment process (immediate example of theirs is Rob Bell making a a pro-gay marriage statement).
And these proponents scratch their heads when their statements about death to self, accountability to a local church, communal discernment triggers such emotional reactions from women, minorities, and white men who can empathetically join with women and minorities.
Miroslav Volf puts his finger on this enormous issue when he says: "Clearly, when half of the human race (women) is consistently deemed inferior and frequently mistreated, we have a problem of major proportions" (Exclusion and Embrace).
The pressure and fear to conform to power and authoritative presence within tradition is bleeping off the charts for so many women--and for so many others hungering but wrestling with self-contempt, hungering for dignity, hungering for wholeness, hungering for acceptance, hungering for restored beauty in God's kingdom and relationships.
Is there pressure from leaders to coerce their tried and true relied upon psychological and spiritual mechanism through incessant appeals to die to self and submit?
Millions of millions of women who do not wrestle with Neibuhrian pride--but suffer from self-contempt from the systemic sin of Neibuhrian pride imposed upon them--they know this pressure to conform, they know coercion to conform and surrender their voices for the sake of keeping the peace and people pleasing.
But this would be true for all who do wrestle with self-contempt rather than Neibuhrian pride. And this is where it gets so messy but many white male pastors are stuck in the tradition of death with self and submission under the scheme of Neibuhrian pride. They cannot connect with pop author, researcher of vulerability, Brené Brown's Daring Greatly. That book is for people wrestling with shame not under Neibuhrain pride but under shame and self-contempt.
Is there generous space for self-love and agency in the presence of self-denial and submission? Is there an authority of the Spirit? Or, as Julie suggested, is there within Christian tradition, space and room for the authority of experience? Or if experience doesn't meet up to current specs is it immediately coerced, silenced, or pressured to confrom to Neibuhrian pride? And thereby urged to submit and die to self?
These are important questions for proponents who connect self-denial and submission in local communities.
We'll look at the next challenge in the next post. Do these proponents welcome and celebrate groundbreaking individuals, individual voices who are following God's call in their lives who are breaking new ground, who are hungering and open to what God is doing in their lives? Or do proponents seek to curb, stifle, oppress, or distance these voices through tried and true mechanisms for them?