Well, I finally met Rob Bell last night and had an intense conversation with him. Kind of. Like indirectly.
He was in Seattle for the Seeds of Compassion event with the Dalai Lama. I have no problem with that at all. I would have loved to have been invited to participate but no one called my agent. But since Rob Bell was in town, Off the Map invited him and a few other folks to speak to an intimate crowd of about 150 folks at an event hosted at the Vineyard Community Church.
Rob Bell spoke initially and eloquently for about 15-20 minutes on the thrust behind his upcoming book entitled, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Here’s a short but fascinating description:
There is a church not too far from us that recently added a $25 million addition to their building. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago about a study revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty.
This is a book about those two numbers. It’s a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity,
It’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest, it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
It’s about what it means to be a part of the church of Jesus in a world where some people fly planes into buildings while others pick up groceries in Hummers.
Ok, that’s when things got a little awkward and we had our indirect conversation. After his chat, Rose Madrid Swetman [co-pastor at Vineyard] came up to interview/dialogue with Rob Bell about the topic of women and leadership in the church. For the record, Rob supports women in leadership and has female elders at his church, Mars Hill [Grand Rapids]. Absolutely no relation to that Mars Hill [Seattle].
And how did she begin her interview? She reads a quote [with permission] from someone named Eugene Cho who wrote the following comment on someone’s blog about the church being a White Man’s World:
…we have to ask how are we as revolutionary followers of Jesus – who debunked the systemic structures during his life – are working, living, ministering, writing, speaking and creating to work towards that end.
Power, voice and influence are not easily pursued [and obtained]. It must be distributed and shared from those who have that very power, voice and influence. And because it is so counter-cultural, we have to be that much more intentional.
As a male, I am embarrassed at times at the manner in which we [men] directly, indirectly, or systemically oppress our sisters. While there’s a legitimate female candidate for the president of this country, there are many [in the church] who still wonder if women should be in leadership. I know that [for them] it’s a biblical issue and not intended to be a personal issue but why would women want to subject themselves to these questions again and again and again…
Rob like others must have thought, “Who the frack is Eugene Cho?”
Actually, I felt bad for Rob because I’m not sure if he had an idea what the conversation was going to be about. He stumbled through his thoughts and words and I’m not even sure if he understood what Rose was trying to communicate to him.
Rob – for better or worse – is a Christian celebrity. He’s a good guy and I very much dig [him] his humility. The dude is not arrogant or self seeking like someone I know who has a self-righteous pharisaic image of himself praying on his blog banner (that’s me). But honestly, I am amazed how globally popular and influential he is as proven by his books, NOOMA videos, packed out speaking gigs in venues like the Paramount Theater in Seattle, and even a recent write up in Time Magazine.
It was awkward because my words were quoted but I wasn’t able to dialogue with him. If I had a chance, I think this is what I would have said:
Hey Rob. I’m a growing fan and by the way, I like the buzz haircut.
So, this is what I’m trying to get at.
If you haven’t figured it out yet…It’s a White Man’s world. And well, you are a White Man. In fact, you are an especially powerful and influential White Man. The church, unfortunately, is no different than the structures of the larger culture. It is also dominated by White Men. While women and people of color shouldn’t create a state of dependency on the support of White Men, it is encouraging – nevertheless – to be supported by White Men including those who are visible and influential. This would be you.
Certain people have power and sadly, the power structures are such that it tends to perpetuate the advantages of those who have power. And while there have been advances, I know you will agree that there have been some grave injustices against women throughout the history of the church including the present day. And while you have female elders in your church, I guess the question I want to ask is how are you actively and intentionally supporting and advocating for women through your larger ministry beyond your local church.
Why am I asking this? Because people are listening…
Rob Bell is bluntly, one of the most visible and influential figures of Christianity in the 21st century. He is arguably the face of the emerging Evangelical Christianity in North America. It must be both a burden and blessing and I’m interested how he will use the platform of his visibility to distribute and share that power and influence.
For women and on a lesser level, people of color, it’s an uphill journey. It just is. And if you have to ask…you just don’t understand. And on this uphill journey, it’s uplifting when those who have power can acknowledge and advocate for those on this uphill journey.
Interestingly, Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell both pastor churches called Mars Hill – as I shared earlier. And last year, there was some crazy ruckus because Driscoll called out Rob Bell as a heretic at some sort of leadership conference. Ahh, as the Christian Subculture World Turns.
And for the record, one of my best theological conversations – ever – was with Mark Driscoll over the issue of women in leadership nearly seven years ago over an intense but good lunch. Driscoll has been one of the most vocal, if not the single most vocal antagonist in our generation of women in pastoral/elder leadership. And while I know there are some great things going on with Driscoll and MH Seattle, it is stunning and alarming [depends on your perspective I guess] to see the spread of his theological influence. And so, I guess I’m wondering who might be the other person(s) [of similar or comparable influence] who will speak passionately and prophetically in full support of women in leadership. Why am I asking this question? Because they have the power and influence.
What do you think?