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Brothers and Statistics

The other day I enthusiastically embarked on a book by a male theologian popular with some people whose opinions I rate considerably. It took me to the end of the preface to start wondering whether it was too late to cancel the Kindle purchase. Of the 30+ luminaries, mentors, colleagues and assistants mentioned by name as having helped make the book happen, precisely one was female. [1] Now, such cases are hardly rare: I've read plenty of similarly-prefaced books without batting an eyelid, and probably many more where the data would have been on a par had they been available. But for some reason – perhaps because I'd had such high hopes for the author – I just couldn't let this one go. Here was a book which purported to instruct the church, and yet it seemed as though the author was quite content to disregard half the church in the writing of it. Was it even worth my reading? How relevant could it be to me, if I was irrelevant to it?

Meanwhile, Christian feminist Twitterland was exploding with fresh grief at the latest round of #ChurchToo revelations, this time a report detailing 700 known cases of sexual abuse by pastors and employees of Southern Baptist churches over a 20 year period. What makes these incidents all the more horrifying is the extent to which (following patterns seen repeatedly in other parts of the church) they have been ignored and/or carefully covered up, and the ease with which some perpetrators have been able to continue in positions of ministry and influence. Nor, even in the heat of the outcry, was the response particularly reassuring as to the wider church's wise and penitent engagement with the widespread harm being spotlighted – a low point being a tweet suggesting that actually women who claimed to be pastors were "as bad" as sex-offending male pastors.

To me, it seems so plainly, miserably obvious that these two things and a whole bunch of other stuff are destructively connected. If women are not permitted or given opportunity to speak for ourselves, and nor are we even so much as consulted by those who are appointed to speak for us – if abundant pious emphasis is put on Christian men "being accountable to one another" without any suggestion that they need to be accountable to women too – is it any surprise that the church environment becomes one in which powerful men elevate and protect each other, while women (and other vulnerable people) are othered and treated as secondary and disposable?

And so I got angry, I got sad, and I got slam-y, and all of my growing backlog of things to write about went temporarily out the window and I wrote this instead:

“[a] Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family.” – English Standard Version Bible. 
I am the footnote in your Bible,
The parenthesis in your sermon,
The italics in your worship song.
I am the symbol in your hypothesis,
And the gap in your bibliography;
I am the proof-reader in your acknowledgements.
I am the oversight in your program,
The afterthought on your platform,
And the outlier on your committee.
I am the cultural compromise against your caution,
The crisis of authority in your mentions,
The pending schism in your faith tradition.
I am the decline of your Christian values.
I am the item on your agenda
And the topic of your study groups;
The need for your accountability,
The threat to your reputation,
And the stumbling block to your ministry.
I am the sin in your confession
And the cost of your readmission;
The statistic you don’t want reported,
The source you would rather suppress.
I am the sacrifice made for the sake of your witness;
The sacrifice made for the sake of our one-ness;
The sacrifice made for the sake of PR,
For the sake of the gospel,
The sake of your standing,
The sake of the world,
Of the glory of God,
Of the church,
Of your standing.
The voice of one crying;
The damage that will not be managed;
The problem no longer content to be “solved”.
I am here, nonetheless, where I know I belong;
I am here, right beside you, despite you, and like you
I am, in the words you insist on, a son. 
Carolyn Whitnall, 2019.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

[1] Well, more precisely, only one had a name that wasn't traditionally male.

[Thumbnail image 'Martin Luther and Reformers', in the public domain via Wikimedia].


Paul@Romford said…
I'm seriously impressed by the Brothers poem, it has rhythm, pace, purpose and a sense of unveiling as it unfurls, very good; and it stays in the brain
I discovered this poem at exactly the moment I needed it. Thank you for putting these thoughts into lyrical words.
Ah that's kind. @Chef I'm sad that it's something you can relate to though!