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still crazy part 2, (or solipsism part 4)

While in Memphis, T and I overlooked our discontent regarding gender justice, because we were at a place that lived out racial justice… We were with a body of people making a difference. In Sunday School an interesting political dynamic would show itself… the African Americans were staunch Clinton supporters while the Caucasians would go on and on about blow-jobs in the White House and the need to impeach slick Willy. But, we were there talking about how we understood God. We were there worshiping together, led by a group of elders who were both black and white. We were there having potlucks together and going on church retreats and watching movies and hanging out on Friday nights. And this was in Memphis, no less!

When we moved to Atlanta T and I made like run-away chickens and changed our roost.

The state of the CoC in Atlanta is (or was, we really don’t know anymore) rather pitiful. One can drive 40 minutes out into the suburbs and find various mega-megas that orchestrate things nicely. One even has a head minister who drives a little red or yellow corvette, or so I’m told. But church in the city itself is rather dismal… To be fair, there are a few KJV-reading churches that hold summer debates with other groups on such riviting issues as predestination and the false teachings of Promiskeepers.

We found ourselves closest to what turned out to be an inhospitable church with a group of mid-20’s that spent Sunday mornings extoling There’s Something About Mary. Not that the movie doesn’t have its moments. It’s just that when ski-dooing and potty humor are the extent of your vocabulary… (well, I wouldn’t want to be an elitist. And, I know that Greg still misses South Park.)

We had just left one of the most racially diverse churches in the nation and the closest CoC was a suburban church that met in the fellowship hall because they had spent all their building money on a foyer to house their chandelier. When we started attending, they had just begun introducing a praise team. We don’t know if this was an issue or not (it was 7, and praise teams though in vogue could still have been the battle they were 15 years ago, or so), all we know is that the Sunday they debuted the preacher’s homily defended their new addition with the following quote: “don’t worry this doesn’t mean that Janet Reno will be a leading a full choir and band in a besequined robe anytime soon.”

Exacerbating our discontent with the congregation, which seemed rather anchorless, floating on the outer edge of the beltway, was that the minister talked out of both sides of his mouth regarding gender justice. In private he would let us know how important an issue this was for him, but his public face was another. Now, I understand the need for discretion. Yet, discretion and duplicitousness are two different things. He asked a friend who was finishing up her PhiD from PtSem to teach the young adult class but asked that her husband’s name be on the bulletin and on the door—so that the fogies wouldn’t find out. And, he would routinely ignore the comments made by women in the young adult’s bible class he taught, unless they regurgitated masculinist attitudes. It really was baffling. Despite being the teacher of the young adult class, he never knew T’s name and would look right past her most every Sunday. Then, and T wasn’t the only woman in the class that felt marginalized by him, he would preach from the pulpit on the need for and the importance of reconciliation.

I’m making it sound as if he and this church are the reasons for our leaving. I’m falling prey to the logic of Olbrict’s critique. However, neither were the reason we left, they are just nice foils; the church embodied what I dislike about modern American Evangelical Christianity, the preacher what I dislike about the Church.

But, that’s for another entry. Cuz it’s late.



Oh, we were already asleep by the time you put this up. Even if you lost as your readers last night, your regained us today!

Well, it sounds like there were plenty of very good reasons to leave that particular church. As for the idea of whether to leave the CoC fold entirely, i agree with your take on Olbricht, J (from your last post), that it’s much easier for someone in his position to stay and fight for change than it is for many others who are not as privileged in/by the Church.

For me, as the not-so-objective outsider on the issue, I’ve struggled with why it should be such a monumental problem just admitting that most CoCs are not going to give you what you need spiritually and intellectually and that you have a zillion other options to choose from and therefore nothing keeping you there. (Here of course I’m thinking of struggles in my own household more than anyone else’s.) I keep coming back to the question, “Why stay?” rather than “Why leave?” Where does this kind of loyalty to a particular church come in when your own spiritual (and probably mental) well being is at stake?

I’m a member of a listserv for progressives in our area, and yesterday some guy posted this insane rant, basically blaming lay members of the Catholic church for the many evils the church has and continues to perpetrate around the world, and for its stance on abortion, etc, etc. So of course a few good people posted right away, reminding the guy about the Catholic Workers’ movement, liberation theology, etc, to try to balance things out a little.

But as much as that guy’s post pissed me off, his sentiments are actually not that far off from what I’ve been thinking about lately when it comes to this question of whether to stick with CoC and try to change it or flee screaming. The question of whether as a member of a church you take on some responsibility for its teachings and various wrongdoings is a valid one. As a member of CoC, doesn’t one (male or female) at least appear to tacitly approve of gender discrimination? How can one (male or female) be a feminist, for instance, or more generally someone who just believes in social justice when their church (the place where you’d most expect and hope for the realization of some of these ideals) doesn’t agree? G’s church doesn’t contribute money to one local social services agency in our community. When most of the other churches in town open their doors for overflow from the homeless shelter during wintertime, they don’t even consider it. How is that possible?

Sorry for the obscenely long rant. It’s still a little early for me. I’m lacking in articulation.

Notes, hastily keyed for later pondering/discussion:

K & I talked about this further this afternoon, and the question of absence came up again. What’s the difference between absence and schism? If men and women, the likes of J and T, the likes of me, the likes of others leave the CoC, when will those who do stay say, “Enough! How do we change to keep these particular people (rather than the masses in general) in our folds?”

We also pondered why so many who do leave rebound, and in doing so claim, “The devils we know in the CoC are better than the devils we don’t elsewhere.”

And, finally, I thought it would be a pretty damn fascinating social sciences/relgious studies dis if someone would put together a research study that actually asks most women and men in conservative churches what the hell it is they really do think about gender justice. (GR’s blog, and gal328, seem to be the few places where women feel welcome enough to offer their views.)

obscenely long rants are what we are about here at hermits!


i suppose so, but up until now i’ve been trying so hard to be a demure example of my sex. “just be pretty and shut up.” that’s what greg always tells me. :)

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I said that to her…

It occurs to me that the dis I posited above wouldn’t need to ask “most” women & men in the CoC what they actually think; simply a sampling, enough to draw conclusions from. I say this just in case it wasn’t obvious, anyway, (and so C doesn’t think I’m totally stupid about research methods!). I imagine something like Stephen Hart’s What Does the Lord Require?, only this time re: gender equity, would go a long way to discovering whether the real barriers in the CoC correspond at all to the theology of inequity the CoC practices.

so i’ve been thinking about the why stay, K? or the why go back? or the why still think yourself a CoCer?

and I may be posting something…it’ll be slow coming, though.

the conference deadline is now just two 1/2 weeks away.

isn’t there some sort of research institute at HU that studies churchy demographics? i am not sure what its purpose or agenda is, but they may ask those kinds of questions. the barna group prob has polls spanning other denominations that might be interesting to you.

You don’t mean the Institute for Church & Family, do you? That’s the only office at HU that I can think of which might attempt something like a survey of the CoC, but, from what I can tell by the web site and those years of getting Church & Family in my mailbox, they’re little more than tract publishers. Or is there another center?

Abilene has a Center for Women in Christian Service , directed by Jeanene Reese, but I don’t see that they do (she does) any empirical research. Abilene at least has a survey system in place, since they do an annual Salary Survey, but that’s not the same.

Perhaps if JAW is still reading, he might know of an institute, or at least a researcher, who tries to understand the CoC in an empirical kind of way?

I’ll check out the Barna group. I know also that Pew conducts at least an annual cross-section survey of American Christians.

There is also a regular (annual?) overarching survey, the FACT survey, which the Christian Chronicle reports on and which is funded in part by ACU. The 2000 survey returned results like this:

The ethos of congregations of Churches of Christ, based on the FACT survey, is one where congregations report a strong sense of: family feeling, spiritual vitality, worship that deepens spiritual relationships, identity with our movement, moral witness in their communities, ability to incorporate new members, uplifting worship, [and] programming that builds the congregation.

At the same time, the study revealed an absence of certain things among our congregations. These include such things as: A sense of responsibility for social justice in society, Desire to increase the ethnic diversity of the congregation, Openness to change, Openness in dealing with conflict, A sense of having well-organized programs and activities.

The most recent report in the Christian Chronicle I can’t seem to find in in their new site design.

after some quick googling, i think i was thinking of the hu “center for church growth studies” run by flavil-flav. but maybe that does not exist any more? and i don’t really know what they did/do anyway.

The Center 4 Church Growth is more concerned attracting and keeping bodies in pews and turning those bodies into something else. They define congregational strengths, suggest new standards & practices, conduct leadership seminars, etc., in the service of “growth.” It’s a theory & praxis kind of place. (Anyway, that’s the impression I get from Church Growth Magazine, which someone hands to me about every two months.)

I think the FACT survey is the closest and most related thing to what you’re discussing. That said, it’s not always that illuminating, for it often ignores the “controversial issues” dividing us in the COC’s that other denominations have largely addressed. I think FACT is conducted every 5 years, and the 2005 results are to be released within the next month or two.

I guess I’m not shocked that we don’t do sociological analysis well. In fact, if you were to attend the annual SSSR meeting (Society for the Scientific Study of Religion), you’d only bump into one or two COC members.

Looking at the 2000 FACT report, I wondered whether the way the data is reported is as illuminating as it might be. I suppose it depends on what context it’s being reported in. Our resident social psychologist might have a few suggestions for his graduate-school bound students?

By the way, the SSSR homepage is pretty illuminating. I bet a lot of their conference presentations share in that rare moment when the paper topics are simultaneously endlessly fascinating and excruciatingly boring.

Yes, the SSSR is actually C’s favorite conference. She couldn’t make it to last year’s (Rochester, NY), but I know she has more fun at SSSR than she does at APSA. Sometimes I tag along to crash the book room. The only other COC’er we know who usually attends is a real sociologist, not a fake-political-scientist-one.

are you referring to the press release you linked above, or do you have an actual copy of the full report or data set? (i must confess i have not googled for the report or clicked the links above. i am writing a poignant set of instructions about how to present the results of statistical analyses and must get back to it before i forget some of passionate dialogue i have planned out for the two primary love interests.)

and i think the scientific study for religion people do take interesting topics and make them really interesting (and boring, too, i guess). moreover, my students and i have collected some fun data on the effects of subliminal death reminders on people’s self-reported fundamentalism. if the analyses work out well and if i am still a prof in the fall, we may very well send an interesting/boring paper to that society’s jnl.

Yes, the press release linked above. When the FACT report is released, I know the Christian Chronicle reports this press release also expands upon it, but I do not know to what extent it expands because I don’t have a copy of the CC’s reporting handy. Admittedly, I haven’t looked closely, but I do not believe the full data set is made widely available.

Meanwhile, I think this,

the effects of subliminal death reminders on people’s self-reported fundamentalism.

deserves further explanation!

Yes, do expound. This sounds fun.

i’ll write about it on here in a few weeks when it’s all analyzed (anal-ized?).

i think sociologists of religion could do interesting work on comparing denominational attitudes in the way that you suggested. it would prob be hard but thought-provoking to try to figure out whether it was the socioeconomics, the doctrine, the family structures, or the whatever associated with particular denominations that contributed to inter-denominational differences. on the other hand, a psychologist like me could explore person-level variables (e.g., traits or experiences) in looking at individual differences in gender-related attitudes. but enough of survey of the social sciences.

until then, i’ll try to hide lots of subliminal messages in my comments.

j/k (or am i?)

I mentioned it above, but I’ll mention it again. I learned a buttload when I read Stephen Hart’s What Does the Lord Require?: How American Christians Think about Economic Justice. Its cross-denominational concern combined with the in-depth interviews develop a fairly good picture of the intersections of faith, politics, and what you might call common sense ethics. Hart has the patience to tease out the origins of what people say and why. Turn that same kind of study to gender justice, or any number of other issues, and we’d know a lot more about what people actually believe (as opposed to what people want others to think they believe, which is one of the most difficult layers, among many people, but particularly among believers, to penetrate).