Sunday, August 30, 2015

Whose vote is it anyway?

After what has been a rather hectic few weeks, I took a night off last night and watched a movie with my hubbie about the suffragette movement in the USA. The cinematography of the film itself, Iron Jawed Angels, was interesting. (What a dull word.) While it was set in about 1915-1917, culminating shortly after the USA joined WW1, and while the characters were true to the ethos of the time, the camera angles and the format of the film was very modern, which I think made the movie more accessible (which is not to say that it wouldn't have been accessible otherwise).

However, the content of the movie has remained with me. The storyline follows two American suffragettes - Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, with the formation of the National Women's Party, and the events that led to the constitutional change allowing women to vote in the USA. The story is horrific in parts, tragic in others, and all-round inspiring.

I was struck, yet again, by the notion that for great reward, or great progress, or great freedom, there is always great sacrifice. When one looks back on history, on all the great movements and events, there is always someone who has suffered greatly in order to bring about change.

With every major movement in history - the beginnings of (true) Christianity, the Protestant reformation, the Reformation, the Inquisition, various Revolutions (French, Russian, etc.), the abolition of slavery, the Suffragists (including the suffragettes), anti-Apartheid, LGBT rights... to mention just a few from Europe and America. In each of these there are stories to be told of men and women who suffered unspeakable horrors in the name of achieving their goals - those who were ex-communicated, tortured, and killed.

One observation from the movie is that when an issue arises, you have to take a stand. You have to choose which side of the fence you are on. There should be no-one sitting on the fence. Sitting on the fence is cowardly and selfish. When one considers the lengths that those involved went to, the energy they invested, the time they gave, the life they gave up (no matter which side of the fence they were on), I would suggest that the only way to show respect for that is to nail one's colours to the mast and choose a side.

Of course, you can change sides - as one of the senators did at the last minute, and his became the swing vote that won the motion. But to sit on the fence - that's not an option.

And then I thought of the issues the church is facing today: women in leadership, and LBGT rights. In each case there are honest, good, true Christian people on both sides of the fence, who both defend their beliefs from Scripture, and who both claim the other group is misinterpreting because of reading something out of context.

Where does that leave me? I don't read Greek or Hebrew. I can't translate the original text for myself. I'm not trained in hermeneutics. How do I know which interpretation is correct? I have dear friends on both sides of each of these issues. I know strong Christian women on both sides of the women in leadership debate - all of whom have honestly delved into Scripture and grappled with this issue before God - some of whom firmly believe that male eldership no longer holds, and others of whom firmly believe it does still hold true. Equally, I have Christian friends who are LGBT and honestly believe that God does not restrict them from having LGBT marriages, or holding office in Christian circles; while other Christian friends honestly believe the opposite.

So while I believe that one must choose a side, how does one do it? Who is right?

When I go back to Jesus's words recorded in the New Testament, his actions make it clear that women are to be held in higher regard than the culture of his day did. But how high? In the same way, Jesus never spoke directly into the evil of slavery, he never directly spoke into the issue of women in leadership, nor did he speak directly into the LGBT issue. And looking back into Scripture in the Old Testament doesn't help much, because it is possible to interpret it both ways, depending on your initial bias.

I don't want to fall prey to allowing the current culture to dictate how I interpret Scripture, because Scripture should inform culture, not the other way around. Equally, I don't want to allow my own personal experience to be the measure of right and wrong, because only God's measure is good enough. Yet, I cannot ignore either.

I do have bias in these issues - I am not neutral. I want women to be leaders and elders, because I have a gift of leadership. I want LGBT individuals to be able to experience loving partnerships (marriages) with others, because I want my friends to have what I do. Moreover, because I have a daughter, I want her to be able to be the best, biggest and brightest she can be - and if that means being able to lead a church, then that's what I want for her. Because I have children, if either of them came to tell me they were LGBT, I would want them to be able to have a life partner of their choice (and raise children) without the fear of rejection from the rest of the Church.

But are those reasons enough?

When Scripture is not clear, when I have strong Christian friends on both sides of the argument, when my heart has its own agenda, I need God to guide and lead me. Nothing else will do, because sometimes: [what] seems right to man... leads to death. Prov 14:12.