Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's All About Jesus-- Isn't It?

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.

Paul preached and taught that Christianity is all about Jesus.  And Jesus's teachings are centered around the "kingdom of God" with Himself as its inauguration.  When Jesus first came preaching the gospel at the beginning of Mark, He said, “The time has come, [and] the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15. 

"The time has come" was shorthand in Israel for "The Messiah has arrived."  Jesus was saying that He was the Messiah, and because He had arrived, the kingdom ruled by God, rather than men, was near us, right here on earth.  This was the good news that people were to believe.  In Luke 4:14-19 He proclaimed in the synagogue that the verses about God's anointed coming with good news for the poor, healing for the blind and freedom for the oppressed, were fulfilled right then and there.

As N. T. Wright puts it in Simply Jesus:

Jesus behaves from the start both with the sovereign authority of one who knows himself charged with the responsibility to inaugurate God's kingdom and with the recognition that this task will only be completed through his suffering and death.   [Emphasis in original.]

And in the next chapter he says that after the Resurrection:

A new power is let loose in the world, the power to remake what was broken, to heal what was diseased, to restore what was lost. . . Jesus's risen person-- body, mind, heart and soul-- is the prototype of the new creation. . . The thing about the new creation is that it simply overflows with the power of love. . . [t]his love is strong, powerful, life-changing, life directing.  New creation has begun; and its motivating power is love.  [Emphasis in original.]

In Christian churches everywhere this weekend, the death and resurrection of Christ will be celebrated, because Christ is the center of Christianity. 

Isn't He?

Why does it seem so often like Christ is only the center of Christianity on Easter weekend?

Certainly if you asked average people on the street what Christianity was, what Christians were all about, "A bunch of people following Christ" would probably not be what they would say.  They'd be more likely to talk about stopping gays from marrying and women from having abortions, fighting for prayer and against evolution in the schools, and trying to keep crosses, manger scenes and copies of the Ten Commandments on display in public places.

Most people have no quarrel with Jesus-- in fact, they rather admire Him.  But a large number of people have real problems with the way we Christians talk and act.  And maybe it's because Jesus really doesn't seem to be at the heart of our religion at all.

The old creation lives by pride and retribution: I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way I try to get even.  We've been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it.  Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope.  It's a way . . . that is as unthinkable to most human beings and societies as-- well, as resurrection itself.  That's the point.  Welcome to Jesus's new world.  N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus.

I think Dr. Wright is right (no pun intended) that the way Jesus lived, the way He taught us to live, is "unthinkable to most human beings and societies."  Maybe that's why we're so bad at living it.  Maybe that's why it seems so much easier to fight culture wars.  Maybe that's why it's easier to think of ourselves as "Bible-believing Christians" than "Jesus-following Christians."  The Bible is concrete: a book we can hold in our hands.  We can look inside its pages for instructions on how we and everyone else are supposed to behave and think, and we can try to enforce that in our world.

But Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." John 5:39.

The Bible was meant to point us to Jesus.  We Christians often act as if we think it's the other way around.

And we turn the New Testament-- a set of books made up of narratives, prophecies, explanations to Gentiles of what "the time is come and the kingdom of God is near" means in their own mindset, and letters of encouragement and advice to young churches, into a book of rules and new law.  And then we try to get our governments to enforce it.

I want to dedicate my Easter this year to returning to Jesus as the center of my faith.  I want to learn once again to follow Him, and no merely human agenda-- not even that of a church or churches in my country.

I want to recognize that trying to impose my morality on others from the government down (instead of trying to love them and come underneath them to lift them up, to meet their spiritual and physical needs), isn't what Jesus was talking about when He said "Follow Me."  I want to understand that it's not about just living my life as usual, either-- just going to work and coming home and cooking dinner and watching TV.  I don't know exactly how He wants me to do as He did-- I don't know exactly what that is going to look like in my life-- but I want to do what that beautiful song by Gene MacLellan from the early 1970s said:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water . . .
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea . . .
Take a look at yourself,
And you can look at others differently,
By puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee!

This Easter I want to fall in love all over again with the One who said "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."  Luke 12:32.  The One who said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17.

Fellow Christians, I'm coming to realize that before we can change the world, our own world has got to change.  We have to abide in the Vine first, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:4).  And if we do change the world, what we change it into needs to look a lot more like Him and a lot less like us.  And we need to do it according to His way of doing things, not ours.

And to my readers who aren't Christians-- I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that what you've been feeling from us has had so very little to do with what Jesus came to bring.

Maybe lately it hasn't been all about Jesus, for a lot of us.

But maybe it can be.

For I believe He is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thoughts on 25 Years of Marriage

This weekend my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  I don't necessarily think that makes us experts on marriage, but I did have a few thoughts, for whatever they're worth.

I think the best way to start a marriage is with friendship.  The best way to keep a marriage strong is with friendship.

Respect is part of love, and both partners need it.  Put-downs and personal attacks have always been off-limits in our marriage.

Passion in a long-term marriage is more like banked coals than like a bonfire.  It glows just as hot deep down, but isn't as showy on the surface.  The way we've kept the fires banked so they never go out, is to never stop flirting.

We tried gender roles.  Then we climbed out of the boxes and tried just being ourselves and supporting one another in being who we are.  That worked much better.

Believing the best of one another helps us be our best to one another.

Trying to see through one another's eyes really helps.  So does really listening.

In case of conflict, a little humility goes a long way.

When in doubt, try 1 Corinthians 13.

That's all I've got this week.  We're leaving today to spend a weekend on the coast!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: My Contribution

This coming week Wine and Marble, Joy in this Journey and Shaney Irene will be hosting a Spiritual Abuse Awareness synchroblog.  Many bloggers will be posting one blog a day for several days, describing their own experiences of spiritual abuse, how it has affected them, and what they wish they could tell others.  I am a once-a-week blogger, so I've decided to just do one post in which I give shorter answers to each of the three sets of questions to be addressed. 

As I shared in my post Don't Talk About It:

In Ephesians 5:1-13 Paul . . . says in verse 11-13:

"And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them. For it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that is visible is light." . . . 

[I]n the light is where the enabling stops. In the light is where the perpetrator must face himself and his deeds. In the light is where the victim can see that the shame is not hers to bear. . .

[So] do talk about it. Stop sweeping it under the carpet. The stories must be told.

I'm happy that so many people are being encouraged to tell their stories.  And I'm going to tell a little more of mine.  So here are the questions set forth on the synchroblog, followed by my answers. 

What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

When I started college in the early 1980s, it was in a new state and a new town.  I had lived all my life till then in a little town in Colorado, but my parents and I moved to Oregon for my father to start a  new job there, and I moved into the dorms in a town about an hour's drive away from them.  For the first time in my life I was completely alone.  I remember the loneliness I felt as I walked for the first time into the dorm dining room to see not one face I recognized.

I had been a Christian for a couple of years and quickly began looking for a church.  The one I found was a campus ministry that had established churches in college towns all over the United States.  The people there welcomed me with so much warmth and enthusiasm that I immediately felt at home there.  I know they were sincere-- but what I didn't know was that they had been taught to treat newcomers this way; it was a technique I later learned is called "love bombing"-- but the rank-and-file members of the group, I still believe, were as ignorant as I was that this was a cult recruitment technique and were simply doing as they were told out of a sincere desire to follow Christ.  In any event, my loneliness made me especially vulnerable, and I soon joined.

It was only after I was committed to the group that the coercion and control began.  We were required to attend each and every meeting of the church, including long weeks of outreach meetings where services were held every evening.  Many students' school work suffered; I managed to keep my grades up by having no activities whatsoever outside of classes and church.  We had to have the church leaders' permission to go home to visit our families, and permission was not given during outreach weeks.  We were also required to go out before meetings and pass out flyers on the sidewalks to draw people into the services.  In fact, we had to get permission for anything outside church, school and jobs; I remember being forbidden to go see a free showing of the Disney movie Fantasia, because it was "demonic."  The Star Wars series was also forbidden;  I had seen Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back before I joined the church, but it would be years before I got to find out how the series ended with Return of the Jedi!

The church leaders never actually said, "We forbid you to go to these movies."  It was subtler than that. "I believe seeing this movie would be bad for your spiritual health and your walk with Christ, and He has given me watch over your soul according to Hebrews 13:17, which also tells you to submit to my authority."  That was the message.  Anyone who disobeyed an elder was privately rebuked, and sometimes became subject to a session of "casting out of demons" where all the elders gathered to pray for hours over the disobedient one and cast out the "spirit of rebellion" and (if she was female) the "Jezebel spirit."

If you persisted in going against the leadership, you would be publicly rebuked in front of the entire congregation, which would be called to a special meeting for this purpose.  If this didn't bring you back in line, excommunication resulted.  People who were excommunicated, or who left on their own, were considered either apostate or covenant-breakers, and remaining members were expected to ostracize them under threat of excommunication themselves.

Control was enabled through a hierarchy called "shepherding," where longer-term members were appointed as "disciplers" of younger members.  Disciplers and disciples were expected to meet together at least once a week, when the disciple's life that week would be reviewed in excruciating detail, followed by prayer and Bible study.  Most of us who eventually became disciplers ourselves were at least a little embarrassed by this and never did as detailed a job as was actually expected; I know that I didn't.  But I tried to do what was expected of me, and I remember being confused at the feelings of hidden resentment and avoidance I received from some of my disciples, a few of whom later left and were considered my failures.

These are just examples of many controlling techniques used by the leadership hierarchy to keep members in line.  I have shared about some of the others in posts like this one  and this.

The story of my group is unusual because eventually the campus ministry organization voluntarily dissolved.  Many of the pastors of individual churches banded together and forced the resignation of the founders and the dissolution of the ministry in 1989.  Local churches like the one I (and now my husband) still attended were left to either dissolve or become independent, non-denominational congregations.  My local church did the latter, and my husband and I continued to attend there until 1999, when we left because of fears that a new central organization was arising to bring the former member-churches back under its sway.  Our local church was no longer controlling, however, and we left amicably and with the respect of the then-leadership.

As far as I know, the central organization that did reorganize the remaining churches is not controlling or cultic in nature (friends who remain in the church seem happy and healthy), but once we joined a new church (chosen above all for its openness and the humble, non-controlling stance of the leadership), we were happy not to return, for reasons set forth in my answers to this next set of questions:

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

I suffered less than many who leave cultic groups because of the voluntary disbanding of the group.  I was never a victim of excommunication, and I was never shunned by friends who stayed.  Still, I find I have a kind of shuddering disgust at the mere thought of certain common church activities like church conferences (mandatory regional and national conferences were another method of group control that I'll share about in more detail someday) or prayer meetings.  Even the thought of attending events like this triggers old feelings of distress, resentment and helplessness.  To this day certain words such as "total commitment" or "sold out for Christ" give me soul-deep, knee-jerk reactions of nausea and repulsion.  I have no desire to return to the old church because of these memories and the possible reactions that returning would trigger, even though I don't believe my former church is spiritually abusive today.

The turning point of my journey was when I decided (I think it was around 1995) to take everything I had been taught to believe by the old group, lay it on the table, and jettison whatever didn't line up with my experience of God's love, my understanding of the Bible, and/or simple factual knowledge and reasoning.  This journey continues to this day, as I continue to explore and learn more in each of these three areas and to allow new understanding to change my thinking.  I've found, though (especially on the Internet), that even questioning certain evangelical/fundamentalist doctrines now puts me on the outside of what many who seem to consider themselves gatekeepers believe to be acceptable Christian belief-- and this is true even though I continue to hold to the Nicene Creed and other longstanding definitions of orthodoxy.

I don't believe the question "Do you feel you've healed?" can be answered with a simple yes or no.  Healing is a process that I've come a long way in, but I probably will never be completely "over it" once and for all.  Nor do I feel I should seek to be.  The Resurrected Christ still keeps the wounds in His hands and side, which tells me that our wounds are part of who we are and remain valuable to God.  As long as my old, continually healing wounds keep me sensitive to the sufferings of others, and help me hold my current doctrines and beliefs lightly and with humility and willingness to be persuaded to change should I find them harmful to myself or others, then these scars are worth keeping.

Why should those who haven’t been hurt care about this issue? What do you wish you could tell those who want to help but weren’t close enough to know or see your situation? What do you wish every pastor knew before starting ministry? What would make the church a safe space for you?

The shepherding/discipleship movement didn't die when my group disbanded.  Although the term "shepherding" is no longer used, and though some of the original founders of the movement have renounced these spiritually abusive teachings, they are still alive and well today, most notably in Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is currently involved in a class-action lawsuit alleging abuses directly related to shepherding-style hierarchical control.

Involvement in spiritually abusive religion can happen to anyone.  I would say to most evangelical Christians that at least one person they know probably has been, or is now, under the influence of one of these groups.  Many evangelicals and their pastors are involved in, or being strongly influenced by, current incarnations of spiritually abusive religion.  If you do know or suspect that a friend or loved one is in one of these movements, the best thing to do is stay in their lives.  Don't let them drive you away, but-- and this is equally important-- don't confront them directly.  Instead, ask them gentle, non-confrontational questions about what they share with you.  "Do you think this is the way Jesus taught His disciples to act as leaders?" or "Is this how brothers and sisters in Christ should treat one another?" could be good questions, but if they respond defensively, back off.  If you can just start them thinking, without thinking of you as an enemy who is trying to make them break their "covenant" with their church or its leaders, you may be able to be there for them if they do decide they want out.

Church is a safe place when questioning is welcomed and dissent is allowed, where leaders don't seek or allow themselves to be treated as stars or celebrities, and where each person's walk with Christ is considered to be his or her own business.  I wish and hope pastors starting ministries are being alerted to the catchwords and pet teachings of spiritually abusive movements, and I think classes on the warning signs of spiritual abuse should be taught in Bible schools and seminaries.  Pastors especially should be aware that some of the most well-known and vocal religious leaders today are influenced by and/or propagating spiritually abusive doctrines and practices, and to carefully weigh and test everything, holding tightly only to what is good, just as Paul advises in 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

It is for freedom that Christ set us free.  As Christians, we should be combating spiritual slavery, not living under it or promoting it.  We have the opportunity of being Abolitionists, denouncing spiritual slave-holding wherever we find it.  Many of us may also have the chance to be a spiritual underground railroad for those seeking to escape.

If I and the other bloggers this coming week can influence others to become spiritual Abolitionists, it will help bring a sense of meaning and resolution to all we went through.  I for one am grateful to the synchroblog organizers for this opportunity. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Walk in the Wetlands

A great egret has been visiting the wetlands where my husband and I walk every day.

As we walk along the boardwalk that loops through the standing water, we see him from a distance, a splash of white against the dark shrubbery behind him.  He stands in the water, neck curved, watching for tiny green frogs among the drowned grasses.  Or he stalks, head swaying back with each long-legged step forward.

Breathless, we pass the binoculars back and forth between us, standing at the closest point to him that the boardwalk will allow, hoping he won't fly away.  But we gasp with the beauty of it when he does-- when the huge wings open, curving in a great arc as he scoops air beneath them.  As he rises. As he flies.

He is gone, and we walk on, speaking of him in hushed voices, hoping that when we come back again tomorrow, he will have come back too.

Gerard Manley Hopkins said it best:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil,
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil

As the sun disappears behind the foothills of the mountains, spreading a glory of pink and gold over the darkening sky behind it, we walk among the cattail stalks, listening to the marsh wren chirring just out of sight.  

In the willows above, red-winged blackbirds call to one another, their bright shoulder-patches ruffling up with every call.   There are so many that they sound like a concert of reed flutes.  They dive from the trees to sway atop the cattails, then flutter up again to perch in the branches.  "Poke your neigh-bor!' my son used to tell us they were saying.  He has grown too old now for such imaginings, but the blackbirds' song does not change.

Mallard ducks are flying in to roost in the cattail beds for the night.  Their short wings make a whistling sound as they beat at the air, losing altitude gradually as they circle.  Below in the shallow water, ducks that have already found resting places quack sleepily, or flap their wings in indignation when the newcomers land too close.

Later we pass through a wooded area where the water merely pools among the trees.  We remember the time a sudden knocking sound made us raise our heads, and a pileated woodpecker eyed us from the trunk above, crest burning bright over a white-striped face.

We never know exactly what we will see in the wetlands.  Pacific tree frogs shout from the puddles, and Oregon red-spotted garter snakes sun themselves on the boards, disappearing with a flick of their black tails when walking humans approach too near.  In the spring and fall, woolly-bear caterpillars trundle along the wooden rails, always seeming to have somewhere very important they need to be.

We notice gnaw-marks on the trunk of a tree and wonder if the beaver we saw last year is back.  In the dusk we would see its wet brown back slicing the water, and once or twice even heard the "smack!" as the flat tail struck the surface.  And though we haven't glimpsed it in some time, still the trees carry "beaver bites," as we overheard a very small human visitor call them once. 

The wetlands.

This is the place where the tension and frazzle of the day drop away from us.  The place where life has been lived just as it is, for centuries before humans ever built houses or drove cars or collected taxes.  This is where it all drops into perspective, where none of the things that worry me are important; where, as Hopkins wrote,

nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. . . 

Here in the wetlands, the presence of God is palpable.  Here in the wetlands, I find that the things that so concern humanity are only passing, temporary things. Here, the seasons and the cycles change always, but nothing ever changes at all.

Here I can breathe.

Here I can think.

And here is where I like to come alone sometimes, to worship.

I just wanted to share it with you today-- with anyone who comes and wants to walk that boardwalk with me in their thoughts.

I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"But That's What the Bible Says"

I have written extensively on this blog about why "But the Bible clearly says" isn't necessarily a very good defense for certain traditionalist positions.  I've written a lot of posts that analyze certain texts which are supposedly "clear," but which maybe weren't intended by the original writers (or understood by the original audiences) to mean what seems so "clear" to us today.

This isn't one of those posts.  Today I just want to write a few things from my heart.

I came across another Internet discussion this week that was all too familiar.  A Christian writer said some general things about why having women in all areas of church leadership was a good idea.  He talked about how women's perspectives, women's voices, are part of the myriad wisdom of God, and how the church is unbalanced when the only voices it listens to on Sunday mornings are male ones.    How women's leadership might be the key to societal and world-wide healing and change in areas that most affect women, such as sex trafficking and spousal abuse. How Paul praised women leaders in his epistles and valued their labors for the gospel.

And as is so often the case, the responses of women who thanked the writer for empowering them were nearly overwhelmed by the voices, both male and female, insisting that this was all against God's clear commands in the Bible that amount to "Women can't and must not."

Women can't.

Women must not.

Exactly how much, and in what ways, women are to be restricted is never agreed upon by these voices.  It's a song where some sing verses that say, "Complete silence.  Keep her head covered and don't let her even pray or read scripture aloud."  And others sing verses that say, "No, she can speak and even teach, as long as she only teaches children or other women."  And others sing, "Just keep her from saying anything while standing behind the pulpit.  Let her speak from the floor, not the podium."

But on the chorus they all join in.  They don't agree on how much, they don't agree on where or when or which-- but "Restrict her!  Keep her under male authority!" they sing in unison.

And the reason is always the same.  "We have to uphold what the Bible clearly says, no matter what."

But what does it actually mean, that a woman must be restricted, under male authority?  Why must she be?

"Because she's more easily deceived," some say.  "Because Adam was created first, woman second-- and therefore he was created to lead and she to follow," say others.  And others simply say, "Neither of these, but it doesn't matter.  Who are we to question God?"

But if God designed things from the beginning of creation so that woman must be restricted, kept under male authority, then one of two things is going on.

Either women are not equal to men, because God created them with a certain lack of authority over themselves, or ability to lead others, that men do not lack.  And this lack is intrinsic to womanhood, while any lack a particular man may have in the area of leadership, is simply an individual characteristic, not intrinsic to his manhood.  This makes women, in their essence as women, inferior to men.

Or women are equal to men, but God simply decided that women, because they are women, despite lacking nothing that He gave men for authority over themselves or leadership of others, may not use that authority or leadership.  In other words, they are to be under male authority even though God did not design them or create them to be suited for being under male authority.  This makes God, in His essence, arbitrary and unjust.  He makes rules without good reasons.

But those who restrict women today don't generally ask why.  They don't think about what it means, that women should be restricted.  They don't believe women are inferior, and they don't believe God is arbitrary.  "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it," is enough for them.

And this is the sad thing.  That we'd rather live with cognitive dissonance, believing that women are somehow equal but yet somehow lesser-- or that they are to be restricted for no reason, but that God is still just-- than to believe it's possible we're misreading our Bibles.

We'd rather restrict women and have the Bible be "clear" than admit that we just might be wrong.

Certainty is more important than female humanity.

Because here's the thing.  To consider women lesser is harmful to women.  It exposes them to ways of being treated that are only appropriate for inferiors.  It leaves them perpetually in a state of dependence from which they can never escape.  In a very real sense, it renders them less human than men.

But to restrict women even though they are not lesser, is to restrict them without good reason.  And this, too, is harmful to women.  It says, "It doesn't matter how skilled or gifted you are.  It doesn't matter if you'd be better at this task than 99% of all the men in your church.  You are forbidden anyway."  And this leaves women in a perpetual state of living with injustice and arbitrary, senseless rules.

Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  He said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  And He said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father."  And these words, most will agree, represent the overarching message of the New Covenant.

Surely, if a text pulled from the Bible to support a certain doctrine, results in something contradictory to these truths, there is something wrong with the way we're reading that proof-text?

Even if it seems completely "clear"?

How much of a "truth" can it be if it does to a woman what a man would not wish done to him?  If it puts her in bondage rather than setting her free?  Or if it makes the Father look totally unlike the Jesus who championed the woman caught in adultery, who spoke as an equal to the Samaritan woman at the well, who told Martha that her sister's choice to join the men in training for discipleship was a better thing than women's traditional labors?  The Jesus who, resurrected, appeared first to women and sent them to preach to the men?

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus found fault with a myopic view of the Bible that focuses on "tithing mint, dill and cumin" but neglects "justice, mercy and faith."  It's true that Jesus didn't tell the teachers of the law to stop tithing-- but what might He have said if tithing, as practiced, were actually against justice, mercy or faith?  Should the practice of a "clear" passage of scripture result in active violation of justice or mercy?

Surely not.

And yet isn't this what "Women can't, women must not" actually does?

This is why sometimes I want to cry when groups of commenters on the Internet rush to uphold "the Bible," when what they're really upholding is, "what the Bible looks to me like it's saying, and I know I can't be wrong."

I want to cry because it's easier to say, "women can't, women must not" than "maybe we've missed it."

I know that those who believe the Bible restricts women usually don't think about it this way.  In their minds, it's God's will, and if it's God's will, it must be good.  I know it's hard to question what looks like clear scripture.  And I know there's pressure from other Christians not to question, so as not to come under suspicion of not being "one of us."

And I know some women don't mind being restricted.  I know some women are happy to be under male authority and to live with "I can't; I must not."  But I can't help wondering if they'd be even happier if they ever came to truly believe they could follow Jesus and love God without these requirements.  That they are free to let men lead if and when that works for them (and for the men), but there is no law telling them this is the only way.

But the way I see it, there's something wrong with the way we look at the Bible, when we read a small set of texts in ways that jar with its overarching truths.  There's something wrong with holding the nature or treatment of women, or the character of God, hostage to a verse.

There's something wrong with righteously standing on obedience to the Bible while treating fellow human beings less than righteously.

And there's something wrong with clinging to the confidence that we're so very right in doing wrong.