“Too often, I contend, leaders foreclose the discipline of reconciliation in their need to take control, act from the top, and impose a policy they think will solve the problem.” (pg 85)
"And so we must read the word sin in verse 15 to mean more than a grievous act of sin against someone. It could mean any issue of disagreement we are striving to make sense of. If we disagree on something important with someone, if we are in unresolved turmoil, we are told to go and express our grievance or disagreement and seek agreement." (pg 72)
Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
I was unaware before this happened of Dave Fitch’s aggressive interpretation of Matthew 18. If I had known, I would have never had wanted to participate in that kind of system. I was seeking to get out of patriarchal control and this was an "emerging' church."
Not too long after both my single friend and I had posted pictures from our canoe trip on both our FB walls in the summer of 2009, I received an email from someone with significant power within our church. I’ll just give one clip:
“Is the idea of outings between a married man and a single woman a standard that the young men and women in our congregation learn as they watch your life and can I encourage them to pattern the marriage after yours? I wonder if that is not an expectation we can have of Elder/Shepherds?... I was hurt (offended is almost too strong a word) by the blatant publicity (by FB photos) of your canoe trip, which I am left to explain as "acceptable" by my church when people ask. This is not easy to explain because you are also leaders and public figures in our church.”
There are a lot good and beautiful stories and observations within David Fitch’s Faithful Presence to say amen to. Since I am fifty-eight and have been in the evangelical world for thirty-seven years, I can easily recall when there were no evangelical books on mutuality and leadership. I am grateful for David and his desire to see God’s presence known through mutuality among evangelical churches.
Dave’s new book introduces us to a new challenge for evangelicals when we turn to mutuality and leadership. Part of the old challenge among evangelicals could be summed up in the oft repeated words from Billy Graham in the later half of twentieth century, “The Bible says.” Remember that? And you know, for many Christian leaders, that phrase invokes the final step in authority and settles everything. All conversation is stopped, right?
In recent years there have been a number of evangelicals who have started to state the truth that we have one huge interpretative challenge on our hands with that. Scot McKnight’s recent series highlights the problems with, “the Bible says.”
I suggest with David Fitch’s new book, Faithful Presence presents evangelicals with a new challenge in leadership and authority. “The Bible says,” is now replaced with, “Submission says.” Now, he never says those two words in the book.
But make no mistake about it, with the black-and-white clarity of a John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Wayne Grudem, or John Howard Yoder, he presents to us with a cogent clarity what “mutual submission” means to him and what it means to the church in post-Christendom. By the time you get to the end of the book, it’s stands pretty close in spirit to, “Mutual Submission says.” With intention, I just capitalized the phrase. He doesn’t.
Knowing the absolute clarity Dave applies “Submission says” from personal experience, I was hoping his book would offer a call for leaders to exercise a greater self-awareness, an intentional contemplative path toward letting go of an insistent, “Submission says” black-and-white clarity for the purposes of a deeper life in Christ between men and women.
I wanted to see if Dave had grown in his own self-awareness as an evangelical male authority about when he seizes the power over others in the name of “Mutual Submission says.” How do we engage white male-centered aggressive interpretations of Matt. 18, without also calling into question white male pastor/theologian interpretations of "spiritual humility?"
How do we get from a posture of evangelical male leaders aggressively seeking people to be "under" a system of submission using Matthew 18 as a clobber verse in the name John Howard Yoder? I wanted to see if Dave had grown any kind of self-awareness about him as a male, using this tweaked John Yoder system as justification for urging “mutual submission.”
Let’s briefly review the nuts and bolts of David Fitch’s “mutual submission.” As he says in his book, Dave always needs each leader within his system to be “under” the church. He needs each leader to be tightly knit into his one-size-fits-all system. Even as he embraces a fivefold ministry at the end of his book (which includes apostles and prophets) he needs them all “under” and within this system of mutual submission. He writes in this context, “We are all inextricably related to one another and must always lead within our respective gift in mutual submission to one another.”
When he writes, “mutuality can be mistaken for a kind of passivity. But this a mistake” (156), believe me, he’s not kidding! I got baptized into this male aggression combined with mutual submission in 2009 and it was one of the hardest times in my journey of cross-gender friendship.
With my FB postings and with my blog postings there were people who were in touch with their patriarchal anxiety about cross-gender friendship; and they were fully on board with this male aggressive use of this “mutual submission” to solve conflict. I was all for some hard conversations but the control/coercion messages took me by surprise. Suddenly, within a few weeks time it was, “Mutual Submission says.”
Remember in my first post? This tweaked John Howard Yoder system of submission needs every leader in submission in it—i.e. “under” control—the same system applied to Rosa Parks sitting on a bus would have triggered male aggression using Matthew 18.
Indeed, any strong female trailblazer, boundary-breaker, prophet, pot-stirrer who crossed a social boundary line that disturbed the patriarchal order of Christendom, like Parks did would be subject to male leader aggression using Matt. 18 as foundation for solving conflicts and discernment.
Obviously, this would include male trailblazers too, but I am highlighting females in this series for how this magnifies male aggression by white evangelical male leaders using Matthew 18 to solve problems/conflicts.
I still remember this intense and painful conversation I had with one of the co-pastors back in 2009 who was aggressively seeking to get me in line and “submit” for the sake of this system that Dave has put forth in Faithful Presence. It was painful because I wasn’t attempting to be controversial for the sake of controversy. I was a million miles away in my spirit from trying to be a lone ranger. And, I had come to dearly like this co-pastor.
I had provoked deeply rooted patriarchal anxiety among Dave, the pastors, and even among some professors from a nearby Christian university and seminary. The latter and some other leaders could not fathom how a married elder in the church could be sharing social closeness with female friends out in the open in the sense of social media and without apologizing.
I also had been open about my book that I had been writing for two years. At this point in time I was on the verge of publishing it. Literally. Now during those two years, anyone who wanted to read my manuscript I would have gladly done so. This was my dream and I believed it was going to be a blessing.
Then after both my friend and I posted pictures on our FB wall about our canoe trip, the patriarchal anxiety was too great and the social order of patriarchy of Christendom was challenged. They wanted control over my book. They wanted me to stop blogging about cross-gender friendship. They wanted me to take down my blog post about the canoe trip.
I particularly remember this conversation with this co-pastor. He was strong in all the language/grammar I have now come to know from the top leader of this mutual submission who is Dave Fitch. He was urging me to submit. He urged me to stop seeking to win (I wasn’t seeking to “win” anything!). He told me I needed to die to my self , and I needed to give up on my agendas.
It was clear in his ongoing appeal for me with all the David Fitch language that accompanies “submission,” he wanted me to surrender, to be passive, to be boundaryless before those other leaders suffering from acute patriarchal anxiety. The issue on the table was my book and my ongoing practice of close female friendships out in the open. This was for the sake of mutual submission and for the church.
In tears, I expressed to him in raw vulnerability, I was deeply afraid that if I did what he and this system of “mutual submission,” was asking me to do, I was afraid I might have to give up my friendships and never publish my book.
I will never forget that he told me quite passionately that believers die to their dreams for the gospel, for the sake of the church, for the sake of something greater. This would be “dying for the beauty of mutual submission.” He tried to paint me the “beauty of mutual submission” with his own experience of Dave Fitch. He urged me to give up control over my book and my friendships and “submit” to this system of mutual submission and to trust God.
This is a nutshell version of my entire couple of months in 2009 encountering what I would now call aggressive evangelical male need for solving conflicts using a tweaked version of John Howard Yoder’s submission system with Matthew 18 as a foundational justification.
Can you imagine a Rosa Parks needing to go through a submission process like this? Pick a woman who is bold in a male-dominated church/world. Scary stuff for all who are pioneers, boundary-breakers of male-centered Christendom firmly in place in white-male led seminaries and churches.
I have so much more I want to add, but I will pause here. We need to explore what healthy spiritual intimacy looks like. Can we have a meta-conversation about how white evangelical males using male aggression in their exegesis and application of Matthew 18 to solve conflicts in homes, churches, and neighborhoods? With Faithful Presence this aggression to “submit” is done under everyone submitting to Christ.