Culture Shift – A Growing Religious Pluralism

American culture is changing rapidly.  In addition to the increasing secularization of our society, religious pluralism is another significant threat to Christianity.  A growing number of followers of other religious traditions surround us including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.  How is the faithful Christian to respond?

wheresjesus

Where’s Jesus?

Several people have capitalized on the popularity of the old Where’s Waldo books and published Where’s Jesus? books.  You have to find the image of Jesus in the sea of people. Sometimes I feel like that when I look at our society.  As people become busier, care less about religion, and as other faith traditions grow in popularity it seems as if we have misplaced Jesus.

Religious Pluralism in America Today

According to the most recent Pew Forum Research Report, those who profess the Christian faith in America are on a sharp decline.[1]  The number of people who have “no religion” or identify themselves to be atheist/agnostic is on a sharp rise.

When people move to the United States they bring their faith traditions with them.  Many new residents come from other faith traditions, especially Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist.  This increase combined with a decrease of Christians means that Christianity is on the decline.

Consequently our neighborhoods are changing and will continue to change.  We will encounter more and more people of different faith traditions.  This trend is predicted to continue.  Over the next thirty years in America, Christianity is expected to continue this decline while atheism and other faith traditions are predicted to rise.

Christians (including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Mormons) are the largest religious group in America (78%), followed by those reporting no religion (which includes those who consider themselves atheists and agnostics), the third largest religious group is Jewish, followed by Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu.[2]

Buddhism in America is on the rise, reporting a large increase in converts since 1990.  The popularity of Zen Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, meditation and cultural practices continues to grow.  With 1.5 Million Buddhists reported, it is now America’s third largest religion. [3]

According to Pew Report, the Muslim faith is predicted to increase in North America especially in Canada (where it is estimated to triple) but also the United States (where it is expected to double) in the next 30 years.[4]

The population of Hindus in America is steadily increasing.  Interestingly, this is particularly true in North Texas as people move from Asia for high technology jobs.  Census numbers show that from 2000 to 2010, the Asian Indian population in Texas’ Collin County more than tripled.  The Dallas Morning News highlighted the construction of a new $7.5 Million Hindu temple in Frisco, Texas dedicated to the monkey god Karya Siddhi Hanuman.[5]

These statistics illustrate the reality of our changing cultural landscape.  In America, we recognize that we live in a society where “churches are shrinking and the Gospel is falling on deaf ears.”[6]  Every day we notice we are surrounded more and more by persons of other cultures and different religious traditions.  The question for the faithful Christian is “how are we going to respond?”

Paul a Missionary to Rome

Paul was a missionary.  Paul encountered gentiles with a pantheon of foreign gods – the Romans worshipped twelve gods and goddesses.   Rome was a metropolitan city with many cultures colliding and mingling.  In Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts his preaching has an urgency of evangelism – he wants to introduce people to Jesus Christ.  Paul preaches monotheism – one God.  Jesus is God incarnate – the Messiah and risen Lord of all.  Paul was clear about where he placed Jesus.  Not under or beneath or alongside other gods, but above.

Think Like a Missionary

Even though our predominantly Christian culture is now shrinking does not mean it is all bad.  Christians have an opportunity to be missionaries in our own context.  We can think like a missionary every day.  We have the opportunity to live out the gospel and to share the gospel with others.  For centuries missionaries have worked alongside non-believers and made honest friendships, waiting patiently for opportunities to share their faith.

How can we turn this seeming threat of religious pluralism into an opportunity?

First – Welcome others as Christ Has Welcomed You

The news coverage highlighting local Christians protesting for Muslims to go home and get out of our country is unbelievable and reprehensible.  I was shocked to see Christians on television protesting at a local civic center thinking this was a good idea or something Jesus would do.  Christians must let love speak – practicing the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

With Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists increasing as our neighbors we have a wonderful opportunity to practice what Jesus taught and love our Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu neighbors.  Be interested in their differences and engage in inner-faith dialogue.  Invite them to dinner.  Welcome them and their children.  Our first opportunity is to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us.

Second –Reclaim a Robust Christology

Last year I had an extremely interesting conversation with our seventh grade youth.  All of the children had a Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu friend at school.  All of them had engaged in friendly conversations at school about their respective faiths, holiday traditions and practices.  The overriding response of our youth was – “I didn’t know enough about my own faith to explain what Christians believe.”

They asked me questions like, “Why don’t we fast, my friend fasts for Ramadan?”  “Why don’t we pray throughout the day, my friend prays several times a day?”  “My friend says Christians believe in three gods, I tried, but I couldn’t explain the Trinity.”  “I didn’t know how to explain to them about Jesus.”

Even though they had spent years in Sunday school and gone through Confirmation, they confessed their inability to discuss the Christian faith with non-Christians.

I find many adults ill-equipped to confidently discuss the basics of the Christian faith.  Surrounded by other religions we need to be able to explain and articulate what we believe.  More than ever we are called to proclaim a strong and robust Christological understanding of the incarnation, resurrection and Trinitarian theology.

Jesus Buddha Mohammed

Some people like to show Jesus standing alongside of Buddha, Muhammed and Moses.  Jesus is not just another prophet, teacher or holy man.  We may believe in the same God, but when it comes to the worship of God our understanding is quite different because Christians worship a triune God – one God experienced in three ways – God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit.  When we gather to pray, baptize, sing and send one another out we do so in the name of the Trinitarian God.  This is resolutely not understood and clearly rejected by the other religious faiths.[7]

Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our risen Lord.  Christians have the opportunity to claim a robust, vibrant, rich and full understanding of God.  “The encounter with Islam makes manifest how unique and rich our vision of God truly is.”[8]

Believers have a fresh opportunity to embrace the fullness and distinctiveness of the Christian tradition and reclaim it for this generation.  We must be clear on why we think Christian belief is true and why it matters.  We must have robust doctrines and theology within our local church, not a deficit of understanding or weak faith.

Third – Seek Christian Unity

Most of my ministry career I have seen deep divisions between Christians – the Catholics don’t agree with the Baptists, the Methodists disagree with the Calvinists, the non-denominationals are in competition with the main line Christian traditions.  In many towns the churches don’t speak to one another, work together or even pray together.  Mostly they compete against one another for members.  That must stop.

Christians have differences in doctrine, polity, ordination, sacramentology and the interpretation of scripture.  Instead of focusing on our differences we must focus on what we share in common. We must hold strong to our common belief in Jesus as the Son of God, Lord of all, Messiah and Savior of the world.  We are strong as we are united.

Jesus is not Misplaced, Jesus is Risen

Amidst the growing number of non-believers and religious pluralism – Jesus seems misplaced.  There were three women who couldn’t find Jesus one day — Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James.  They arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning and Jesus was missing.  Gone.   Jesus wasn’t there where they expected to see him because he was risen.

Jesus is not misplaced, nor threatened by our American culture shift.  Jesus is our risen Lord,  powerful, mighty, merciful, loving, sitting at the right hand of God, Prince of Peace and Lord of heaven.

From Sermon preached by Rev. Jan Jokinen Davis at First Rowlett United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 8, 2015.  www.firstrowlett.org/media/audio.

Resources:

[1] Pew Forum, Pew Research – Religion and Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum for Religious Life, 2010), http://religions.pewforum.org/reports.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jane Lampman, American Buddhism on the Rise (The Christian Science Monitor: September 2006).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eden Stiffman, Construction of $7.5 million Karya Siddhi Hanuman temple to serve growing Hindu community, The Dallas Morning News, August 2013.  http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/frisco/headlines.

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks – The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) p. 6.

[7] William Abraham, from class notes from Evangelism and the Modern Culture discussion on his paper “God” in Christianity and Islam: are they the same “God”?

[8] William  Abraham, Shaking Hands with the Devil-The Intersection of Terrorism and Theology (Dallas, TX: Highland Loch Press, 2013), p. 5.

Culture Shift – The Rising Secular Tide

The current post-modern culture shift threatens Christianity as we know it. What are the problems and challenges posed by the rising tide of atheism and secularism?  How can Christians faithfully respond?  Where can we find opportunities?

A Rising Tide

I have heard that you should not turn your back on a rising tide.  My husband and I were at the North Carolina shore visiting family.  Planning to enjoy a day at the beach, we chose our position near the water, securing our umbrella and our beach chairs, spreading a blanket and planting my beach bag.  We left our things and enjoyed a lengthy walk along the shoreline, down to the pier and the light house.

Returning towards our spot on the beach, we noticed several items drifting in and out of the waves as they gently broke upon the sandy shore.  Someone’s umbrella was being tossed around in the ocean.  Someone’s beach chairs were being carried out to sea and pummeled by waves.  The extensive contents of someone’s cute beach bag were scattered all over the sand.

It did not take long to recognize that it was our umbrella, our beach chairs, our blanket and my cute beach bag.  Everything was strewn about the shore and covered with water.  The rising tide had covered our well selected spot on the beach and begun to carry our things out into the ocean.

The Progress of Secularism

For Christians today in Western Europe and North America, the rising tide of secularism can feel somewhat like that.  It seemed like we had established our place in this culture.  Christians enjoyed a prominent position for centuries.  We planted our things and felt secure.

We recognized the secular tide was rising, but when we turn our backs we find ourselves surprised by the progress it has made.  What Christians have established and depended on in this world seem to be upend in the coast line, pummeled by the waves on the secular shore.   Don’t turn your back on a rising tide.

Problems and Challenges of the Secular Culture

What are the major culture shifts currently experienced in post-modern North America and Western Europe?[1]

  • Atheism.  Those who identify themselves as having no religion, atheist, agnostic, deist or theist is on a sharp rise.  Atheists point to the history of religion and identify centuries of suffering, violence, war, corruption and hypocrisy – the world has tried religion and it has failed to save or improve us, therefore let’s try reason now.   There is an increasing confidence in technology and scientific discovery to save us – we are a generation that does not need God. 
  • Distrust of Institutions and Authority.  Our post-modern culture has become increasingly distrustful of large organizations and that includes organized religion.  Questioning authority is a priority – and that includes the authority of scripture and the development of the biblical canon.
  • Rationality.  The post modern world relies on rationality and scientific proofs for the validity of everything.  All beliefs are subject to scrutiny and criticism.  Religion’s claim to truth is tested in the public world of facts where science operates.[2]  On a popular Atheist website, the author asks the question “What do Atheists think about Christians?”  He responds, “What do I think of someone who believes that supernatural entities (e.g., gods, demons, angels, etc.) exist and have an important role in human affairs? I think they are wrong. Specifically, I think they are making a mistake by believing rather extraordinary things without sufficient evidence. By definition, this makes such beliefs irrational. The individuals who hold such beliefs may be quite intelligent, but these specific beliefs are not rational.”[3]
  • Privatization of Religion.  Our culture has separated the public from the private.  Individuals make decisions about faith and religion in an increasingly private way and do not discuss their faith life with others.  For the practicing Christian that means keeping our faith to ourselves and not discussing anything about religion in the public arena.
  • Moral Relativism.  Post-modern culture suggests that morality is determined by the individual.  I decide what is moral for me; you decide what is moral for you.  As long as people do not judge one another everything works okay.  One person should not impose their idea of morality on another.  Tolerance of differing moral views is the norm.[4]

Popular Cultural Expressions Portray the Church Negatively

You will notice these post-modern themes in nearly all of today’s movies, television shows and bestselling books.  In popular cultural expressions the church or Christians are often portrayed in a negative light.  Beyond thinking that religious belief is foolishness, post modern secularists are wary that Christians have made the world worse.  The rising tide of secularism contains more than concern or criticism, but a virulent attack on Christianity – undermining basic beliefs.

Paul Was a Missionary – So Are We

For the first time in Western Christian history we are missionaries in our own culture.  When I grew up in my small home town church we collected funds to send missionaries to faraway lands and share the gospel.  Now we have the unique opportunity in a growing secular, atheist and pluralist nation to be missionaries in our own back yard.

As missionary, Paul traveled to lands to tell the message of Jesus Christ.   Paul traveled to Corinth in the Roman province of Achaia.  Corinth was one of the most important cities of ancient Greece.  A large, modern, industrious city, Corinth was highly populated and filled with ethnic diversity.  It was known for its worldliness and immorality.  As a missionary, Paul brought his message to Corinth (Acts 18:1-11) in 51 C.E. and evangelized a small group of Christians.  Paul stayed with them about eighteen months teaching and preaching about Jesus and the message of the cross.  After he left them and went to Ephesus, he wrote them a letter.

Rugged Cross

Paul’s Message Is about the Cross

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul establishes his message about the cross.  Paul has been raised to respect profound Greek learning, the rhetoric of Aristotle, the support of truths with logical argument.  Yet, the message of a crucified God that came to save the world – baffles human reason.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 [NRSV]).

Who can understand this foolishness?  An anointed Messiah, the Son of the all mighty, all powerful God of the universe empties himself of divinity to experience the messiness and weakness of human existence.  God almighty creator of all things chooses to enter the world through the womb of a poor girl named Mary, born in a feeding trough for animals and raised by two simple, uneducated teenagers.

Who can comprehend a fully divine savior who empties himself of divinity to become fully human and experience humanity in all its messiness and meanness?  Who can understand a divine Messiah who spends time with outcasts, eats with sinners, and reaches out to the poor and the marginalized?

This divine king Paul preaches about lives his life as a poor, homeless, itinerant preacher.  This mighty powerful Savior of humanity rides into Jerusalem meek and humble on a donkey.  This powerful God dies the death of a criminal – executed on a cross a symbol of shame and torture – to save us.  What kind of God is this?

The message of the gospel may seem like foolishness, but it has power all its own.

Fresh Opportunities to Approach the Tide 

How will we approach the rising secular tide of post-modern culture?  By taking the message of the cross straight into the approaching waves.  The secular, post-modern world will hear anew the powerful, incomprehensible, beautiful message of Jesus Christ. We may consider secularism a threat to our Christian existence, or we may recognize that the threat is actually an opportunity.

  1. Think like a missionary. As missionaries the first thing we must do is understand the culture and learn its language just as if we were going to another country.  We must not be afraid of the culture, but learn about it, study it and be prepared to interact with it.  This is an era of evangelism that begins with relationships.  Paul went into cities and towns as a tent-maker.  He worked alongside of people and made relationships with them.  He did not rely on preaching in the synagogue or from a pulpit to reach people.  Those of you who work alongside those who do not believe in Christ have the same opportunity to be missionaries in today’s context.  That begins by building genuine authentic relationships.  Additionally it means keeping clear boundaries with the morality of secular culture and being clear about how we are to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world.
  2. Live a life that speaks the Gospel. What non-believers notice the most about Christians is their behavior.  How you live your life everyday is what is most important.  Live a life for the world to see – your coworker, your neighbor, people you shop alongside in the grocery store and who you exercise next to at the fitness center.  When others see your love it points them to the love of the one in whom you believe – the love of Jesus Christ.  John Wesley called that conspicuous sanctity – when we come to the Holy Spirit and allow God to mold us and improve us, we cannot help but shine as lights in the world – lights that point to Christ.  The time you spend seeking God in prayer and pouring over the scripture every morning will stay with you all day – others will see your light.
  3. When you have opportunity to share – share your story. Many of us have had so few opportunities to speak with non-Christians that when a non-believer asks us questions we don’t know what to say.  Share Your Stories.  Tell the story of Jesus.  The story of Jesus is simple and has a power all its own.  What Paul and the early apostles did and what missionaries have done throughout the centuries of Christianity is tell the story of Jesus.  Share your faith story.  You have experienced God in your life – you have experience the Holy Spirit’s presence.  You have had God’s promises fulfilled in your life.  You have had prayers that were prayed and answered.

Closing

The secular tide will continue to rise in America.  We can be afraid of it, complain about it, run away from it, put our heads in the sand, and move our sacred things to higher ground, or we can jump in, go for a swim, bringing the anchor of our faith along with us while shining the bright light of Jesus Christ into dark secular waters.

Preached by Rev. Jan Jokinen Davis at First Rowlett UMC on Sunday February 1, 2015.  The Culture Shift sermon series was inspired by Doctor of Ministry Course taught by Dr. Billy Abraham “Evangelism and the Modern Culture” Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Resources:

[1] William Abraham, Evangelism and the Modern Culture class lecture, Doctor of Ministry Course Perkins School of  Theology SMU, January 2015.

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks – The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) p. 6.

[3] Atheist Revolution.  What do Atheists think about Christians?  http://www.atheistrev.com/2009

[4] Ibid, Abraham.

[5] Ibid, Newbigin, p. 3.

[6] Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament 1 Corinthians 1.  http://www.biblestudytools.com

Why Are There Women Preachers?

Why Are There Women Preachers

God Values the Voices of Women and Has Enlisted Women to Bring about the Kingdom

This week, a ministerial colleague from a neighboring town posted on Facebook that she almost wrecked her car entering the toll way while reading this sign.  The Rowlett Church of Christ is just north of the United Methodist Church where I pastor.  I am thankful to the maker of the sign because it provided an opportunity to preach on this important topic.

Our understanding of this issue is extremely important.  It is about more than the church’s decision to ordain women.  It is about more than women having the authority to teach Sunday school and lead church committees.  Our understanding of this issue informs the value we place on women in our society.  It informs how we understand God and the value God places on women.  It informs how we view our sons and our daughters, our grandsons and our granddaughters.

Jan Preaching Easter

The Importance of a Voice

A person’s voice is a metaphor for their existence.  Early in life we discover the use of our voice is a way we make ourselves known.  Speech is how we ask for what we need and describe what we want.  Voice is the way we express ourselves.  Our voice enables us to share our ideas, perspectives and opinions.  Through our voice we make a difference in the world.  When we value someone’s voice and listen to them, it is a great and powerful thing.  The silencing of a voice is a disregard for a person’s existence.[1]  God values the voices of women and enlists them in the furthering of the kingdom along with men.

God Enlists All Voices to Bring about the Kingdom

Throughout the Biblical witness from the Old through the New Testament, God chooses to utilize all sorts of men and women.  God frequently chooses the less powerful, less learned, and least likely of people to achieve kingdom work.  God loves to use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

Those who choose to follow Jesus are to witness with voice and action.  Beginning on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent his followers and called them to be witnesses: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 [NRSV]).

From that moment on, all Christian disciples are called and sent to bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.  Men and women in every age and every location throughout the history of the world – are called to use their voice.

In the book of Acts, following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter immediately begins to witness to the people.  Peter’s speech ushers in a new Messianic age – the reign of Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God on the church.

Peter quotes the prophet Joel, indicating clearly that God will enlist the voices of both men and women, even slaves – “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18 [NRSV]).

What Do We Do with Paul’s Admonitions for Women to Be Silent?

How do we address the admonition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 for women to be silent? – “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 [NRSV]).

There are volumes written by many New Testament scholars on these verses (and a similar admonition in the book of Timothy 2).  It is helpful to summarize the problems with this text by lumping the resistance into three categories – context, authorship and contradiction.

  • Context – A simple reading of the full chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 quickly indicates to most readers that these verses seem out of context.  Paul is clearly addressing speaking in tongues (glossolalia) throughout the entire chapter fourteen.  Speaking in tongues should be done in a way to build up the church, Paul indicates.  If there is no one to interpret one’s speaking in tongues then that person should remain silent.  In the context of chapter 14 verses 34-35 seem awkward.
  • Authorship – There is significant scholarly support that verses 34-35 were added by later generations.  These letters traveled from church to church over the course of many years and frequently churches would write things in the margins.  Some scholars contest that these sentences do not adhere to the flow of Paul’s conversation, use different words, and have a different tone because they were inserted by later generations.[2]  The editors of the NRSV even put parentheses around these passages with a footnote that the original manuscript placed these sentences at the end of the chapter.
  • Contradictions – Only a few chapters earlier, in Chapter 11, Paul instructs women on how they should pray and prophesy in the church by dressing modestly and wearing a head covering – “Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 [NRSV]).  Praying and prophesying were prominent roles in a worship service.  Why would Paul give instructions on how women should speak in the worship service and then shortly afterward tell them to be silent? There is significant evidence that there were women leaders in the Pauline community at many of the churches, especially in the book of Romans (chapter 16).  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims equality of all people because of Jesus Christ – “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26b-28 [NRSV]).  Paul values the voices of women and enlists women to bring about the Kingdom of God.

God Values and Enlists the Voices of Women throughout History

God has given us great evidence that there is value placed on the voices of women because God has enlisted the voices of women throughout the centuries of Christianity despite periods of great cultural resistance.

Old Testament Voices 

In the Old Testament God used the voices of women.  Miriam was the first Prophetess to the nation of Israel.  She danced with tambourine and sung her prophecy in the book of Exodus (Exodus 15:1-20).  The fourth of the Judges who ruled over the Jewish people was a woman, the Prophetess Deborah.   Deborah lived in the Mountains of Ephraim and held court under a palm tree.  She was wise and God fearing and the people flocked to her for advice and help ( Judges 4:4-7).   Esther was a young Jewish girl who spoke up against a violent, anti-Semitic pogrom and saved the lives of thousands (Esther 1-6).

Picture1

The First Preachers Are Women

Women are recorded in every Gospel as the first preachers, the first witnesses to the most significant event in Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.    Each Gospel handles the account differently, but regardless, God valued the voices of women.  At the tomb, the angel of God instructed the women to “go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’” (Matthew 28:7 [NRSV]).

Other New Testament Examples of Women Preachers

In the book of Romans there is additional evidence of women preachers.  In Rome, ten women appear as Paul’s ministers in chapter sixteen – Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, Julia and Nerseus’s sister.  Phoebe is described as “a significant leader in the early church with three different titles: sister, deacon, and benefactor.”[3]  

In the book of Acts we learn about Lydia (Acts 16:11-15).  Lydia was a wealthy merchant of purple cloth who owned her own large home.  After her conversion to Christianity she was the founder and leader of  the Philippian house church and she preached in her own church.[4]

According to the Orthodox Church in America, holy tradition specifies that when the apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to the ends of the earth, Mary Magdalene went with them: there is evidence of her going to Rome as a missionary, preacher, and evangelist.

God appeared to Nina (335 A.D.) in a dream to go into Iberia to the land of Georgia and “preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]  She continued to preach the good news of Jesus Christ despite dangerous confrontations with pagans in outlying mountain regions.  Nina reportedly turned thousands of people to believe in Jesus.[6]

The Middle Ages

Despite the prohibition by the church, the middle ages give several examples of women preachers.  Some women were allowed space to preach – usually they spoke as teachers and abbesses in their own monastery to other women.  Hildegard of Bingen spoke with such power and authority that men also came to hear her preach.  Rose of Viterbo was a young girl in Italy who heard God’s call to serve the poor and preach the gospel.  Rose began preaching in the streets as a young girl at the age of ten.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Women Preachers

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was a Puritan woman living in the North American Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Anne Hutchinson organized weekly meetings of women to study the Bible and discuss recent sermons.[7]  She believed God called her to preach and she did so at these meetings.  Her message at these meetings became so popular that up to eighty people would attend, including men.[8]  In 1637 she was “excommunicated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.”[9]  After her banishment, she and some of her followers established a new settlement in 1638, becoming the founders of the state of Rhode Island.[10]

Picture2

The Moravians and the Quakers in the 17th century invited women to speak and defended the ministry of women.  Quaker women “engaged in preaching and even received ordination to various ministerial offices.”[11]  A 1750 picture of the Moravian Synod includes women as leaders.  They pointed to the Holy Spirit as the source of all preaching, and logically admitted that they could not restrict the Holy Spirit from choosing any avenue for communication, even a female voice.  The Quaker’s considered the prohibitions on women’s speech in the Bible as a temporary restriction that was for that period in history.

The Methodists

The Methodists were one of the first to employ women preachers.  John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church, “is one of the prominent male advocates for women preachers.” [12]  Because of the rapid expansion of the Methodist movement, Wesley found a necessity to employ lay preachers as well as exceptional women preachers – such as Sarah Crosby and Mary Bosanquet.

John Wesley responded to a letter from a hopeful female preacher, Mary Bosanquet that he had been persuaded to admit God’s call of women to preach.   Mary Bosanquet wrote Wesley a letter in which she argued against the literal interpretation of Paul’s admonition against women speaking publicly in the church.[15]

In 1761 Sarah Crosby first experienced the call to preach when, while leading a class meeting in Derby, nearly two hundred people showed up instead of the usual thirty.[16]  Unsure about the propriety of speaking to such a large crowd but realizing that she could not speak to each individual personally, she preached.  Sarah wrote John Wesley following this incident and asked for his advice.  Wesley does not discourage Sarah Crosby, and Sarah apparently continues to respond to God’s call on her life to preach despite the restrictions regarding her gender.  She continued to travel and preach throughout England the rest of her life.

Nineteenth Century Women Preachers

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874), mother of the Holiness movement, persistently pushed against the cultural norms, publicly teaching and preaching her message.  Phoebe Palmer understood that women were called to preach equally as men and she said that “the prohibition of women’s preaching was a waste of resources and an offense to Jesus Christ.”[17]  Phoebe Palmer encouraged other women to preach by “insisting that Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 14:35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 was not to exclude women from the pulpit.”[18]

Picture3

Jarena Lee (1783-?) was a freed slave and the first woman authorized to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  She became a traveling minister walking thousands of miles on foot. Jarena Lee traveled to wherever she was invited to preach even through dangerous southern slave holding outposts.  She traveled on foot sometimes for twenty miles a day preaching seven hundred sermons a year.[19]

The Grimke Sisters were born to a southern slave holding family, but ran away to live in the north.  Authorized to preach by the Quakers, they spoke out against the evils of slavery.  Lydia Casad Sexton is the great grandmother of one of our District Superintendents, Vic Casad. She was the first woman ordained to preach in the church of the United Brethren in 1850.  Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) was the first woman ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church in 1880. [20]  Clare Hale Babcock was the first woman ordained in the Disciples of Christ church, it was one of the factors that caused the church to split in 1906.  Aimee Semple McPherson was a Pentecostal preacher in the 1920s who preached to thousands in California and had a successful radio program.

God Consistently Uses the Voices of Women Despite Cultural Barriers

All of these women were strongly moved by the Holy Spirit to speak about Jesus Christ and give their witness – they could not be silent.  They braved significant cultural opposition to the use of their voices.  They encountered danger. They suffered resistance, ridicule, banishment and even imprisonment.  Yet, God continued to use them to bring about the kingdom and enact change.  For centuries God has demonstrated that despite cultural barriers, women continue to speak and preach.  God values and has consistently enlisted the voices of women.

Conclusion

God has given you a voice – whether you are male or female your voice is a powerful and a precious gift.  How will you use your voice?  Will you use your voice to build up the church, to encourage others?  Will you use your voice to give people a vision of hope?  Will you use your voice to sow seeds of peace?  Will you use your voice to tell the story of Jesus and share what God has done for you?  Will you use your voice to speak out against oppression and injustice?  Will you use your voice to change and transform the world?

I agree with Paul’s promise in Philippians 2 that the name of Jesus is the name above all other names.  At the name of Jesus — every knee shall bow.  The knees of men shall bow and the knees of women shall bow.  At the name of Jesus every tongue shall confess.  The tongues of men shall confess and the tongues of women shall confess.  Confess Jesus Christ is Lord!    Amen.

 

By: Rev. Jan Jokinen Davis, preached at First Rowlett United Methodist Church on March 1, 2015.  http://www.firstrowlett.org/media

Link to sermon on youtubehttp://youtu.be/lBP2M5AVnrA

 

Resources:

[1] Mary Donovan Turner and Mary Lin Hudson.  Saved from Silence: Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching.  (St. Louis: Lucas Park Books, 2014).

[2] Richard B. Hays, Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – First Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) p. 245-249.

[3] Eunjoo Mary Kim, Women Preaching: Theology and Practice through the Ages (Eugene, OR:  Pilgrim Press, 2004) p. 34.

[4] Ibid., p. 38.

[5] Orthodox Church in America, Saints Lives – St Nino (Nina), Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia (Orthodox Church in America, 2014) accessed July 2014, http://www.oca/saints/lives.

[6] Ibid. Kim, p. 38-40

[7] Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v.”Anne Hutchinson”, accessed July 2014, http://www.britannica.com

[8] Ibid. Kim, p. 91.

[9] Ibid. Turner and Hudson, p. 12

[10] Ibid, Encyclopedia Britannica.

[11] Ibid. Kim, p. 85-87.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. p. 96

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. p. 101

[20] The People of the United Methodist Church, Time Line of Women in Methodism  (The United Methodist Church, 2011), accessed July 2014,  http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/timeline-of-women-in-methodism.

The First Women Elected to Lead the North Texas Delegation

“Is Jan Davis the first woman elected?”  This week, I was humbled and honored to be elected by my colleagues as the first clergy delegate to the General Conference in Portland, OR in 2016.  I have been surprised how many people have asked me the question, “Are you the first female clergy North Texas has elected to the number one spot in the delegation?”.  No.  Everyone must know who that clergy woman was – Kathleen Baskin-Ball.

Kathleen was elected in 2007 to lead the delegation to the General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas in 2008.  This was the only time a woman had been elected in the first spot for the entire 140 year history of our conference.  Kathleen was an incredible force of love and grace.  A strong, confident leader, Kathleen mentored and inspired all of us.  Despite her battle with cancer during the year of delegation work, she was tireless and fearless throughout everything.  I hope to lead with half of the elegance and enthusiasm she demonstrated.

Kathleen died in December 2008 following a heroic fight against cancer.  I am very honored to follow in her footsteps.  I can hear her encouraging  words, “No matter what, let your light shine.”  I will attempt to shine the light God has put within me in Portland.

Another strong female leader, Mary Brooke Casad was elected the first lay delegate to General Conference three times in 2000, 2004 and 2008.  Mary Brooke has been a rock of strength in difficult times and led the North Texas delegation with confidence and ease.  Although she has chosen to “retire” from GC this year, we will continue to look to Mary Brooke for counsel and advice.  I am certain I speak on behalf of all of the women (and men) on the North Texas delegation – both clergy and lay –  we are thankful for these great leaders who led the way for the rest of us.

Becoming a Missional Church

When I initially grasped that the “attractional” way of doing church was going away, I was depressed for two days.  Nearly despondent.  How could that be?  My entire ministry, the way I learned how to do church was not working anymore?  Hanging the cross and the flame out on Main Street, and the families were not flocking into the pews anymore?  Was it my preaching?  My pastoral leadership?  I worked for 20 years at two of the fastest growing churches in Methodism.  I am well versed in the attractional church model.  If it wasn’t going to work anymore, I was ready to throw in the towel and try something completely new.  My church needed to become “missional” to survive in the future.

It was a conversation with Dr. Elaine Heath that helped me see the important role my church could play for the future.  Instead of “either or”, i.e., either attractional or missional model of church development.  Why not try “both and”?

For my Main Street church, we decided to continue to offer the absolute very best worship services, children and youth programming that we could, inviting new people to come and attend our church.  While at the same time we pushed people out of the church and into the community to foster relationships with people that would never come inside the church walls.  We began to develop new worshipping communities in new places.  We sought places where new families were moving, where there was poverty, where there was need and where people would not come to the church.  We went to them.

My leadership model has been to slowly shift our resources, attention and energy from the attractional to the missional model of doing church.  Ever,ever so slowly.  The church has embraced this idea and is beginning to thrive.  Our people have discovered the exciting new way of doing church.  We are reaching new people.  We are beginning one new church start in a suburban neighborhood and simultaneously starting multiple New Day communities in an apartment complex within a 7 mile radius of our church.  This endeavor has energized our congregation and continues to open up new possibilities for ministry.  If my First Church on Main Street can do this, your church can.

Awakening

Pentecost is a time of awakening.  When our once “strangely warmed” hearts diminish to a dimly lit bulb, we long for the Holy Spirit to rush in with a strong wind and blow life into our faith again.

I Pray for a New Pentecost

Pentecost is also a time of awakening for our church.  I pray for a new Pentecost for the Church.   In United Methodist Insight, Kim Cape the General Secretary for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said about the restructure of the United Methodist denomination, “More than we need a new organizational chart, we need a new Pentecost”.  I believe that is true of the church in North America — not only United Methodists, but all main line denominations.  The church longs for a revival, a new awakening, a new movement of the Holy Spirit that will set us on fire again.

Christian Futurists Disagree

There are two camps of Christian scholars and futurists in the United States.  Some predict that the U.S. will be like Europe, over the next two decades becoming increasingly less Christian, less religious, less faithful and more secular.  They believe we are entering an irreversible state of spiritual decline and the end of the Christian era in the United States.  Others disagree and predict that similar to North American history, we are on the verge of the next great Christian spiritual awakening.

Three Great Awakenings in North American History

Historians of American religion generally recognize three significant awakenings in the United States.  The First Great Awakening 1730-1760 impacted the American colonies.  We had fiery preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield.  The revival movement spread from the Wesley brothers in England and people rejected complacent religious practices for the fiery, involved faith of the American colonies.

The second Great Awakening 1800-1830 was all about the expansion of the American frontier.  Revivals, camp meetings, and vital faith spread west with the frontier.  Circuit riders preached from town to town and started new churches.  New forms of Christianity were formed, while social activism, personal piety and religious experiences were valued.

The Third Great Awakening 1890-1920 brought the social gospel movement, the Holiness movement, Phoebe Palmer, the Pentecostals, preachers like Dwight Moody, and musicians like Ira Sankey.  Christians became active in the temperance movement, social reforms and founded the Salvation Army.

Is Another Great Awakening on the Horizon?

Is North America entering a new spiritual season for Christianity or are we declining into secularization, and continued spiritual decay?  Can we hope there is another great awakening on the horizon for America?

Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity after Religion “The end of the Church and the Birth of a new spiritual awakening” says that awakenings begin when old systems break down.  The end of the old opens the way for the new.  Is a door opening for new forms of Christianity to be born?

I pray for an Awakening that will give the Christian church in America new life in a new emerging form and style.  In the words of Chris Tomlin’s Awakening, “In our hearts, Lord, in this nation, Awakening. Holy Spirit, we desire, Awakening”.

Mending Our Nets

At the opening worship service of General Conference 2012, Bishop Larry Goodpaster preached on the scripture about the disciples mending their nets by the seashore.  We would be busy this week, he said, mending our nets, being about our business.  He cautioned us not to be too busy so that we do not recognize Christ in our midst.  We were busy mending our nets at first, doing the business of General Conference.  Then it seemed like we were arguing over how to mend the nets and then we were pushing and pulling and fighting over the nets themselves.  We began ripping and tearing the fabric of our denomination.  The tool that Christ has given us to fish for people.

When the Judicial Council decision was read on Friday May 4, 2012 the UMC Plan was declared “unsalvageable”.  The delegates read the books, Lovett Weems’s Focus, Gil Rendle’s Journey in the Wilderness, Bob Farr’s Renovate or Die.  We felt the excitement that this GC was the one where we were going to make changes, do something new, change direction.  Why work so hard if GC doesn’t have the ability to redefine the future of the church?

After years of work on the CTA, months of work on Plan B and MFSA, hours and days spent crafting them into a collaborative plan that was the best of all three.  It was unsalvageable.  Perhaps what is more concerning is not the loss of Plan UMC, but the loss of something else.  Perhaps our confidence in our polity is unsalvageable.  Perhaps the hope of our young people is unsalvageable.  Perhaps our faith in the goodness of others to work for the whole and not just defend their part is unsalvageable.

Like many clergy, I returned to my church this Sunday morning.   Beautiful, elderly women came out of the sanctuary to hug me and tell me they were proud that I was a delegate to the General Conference.  “I am sure all your hard work made Methodism better.”  I smiled and thanked them, but secretly wondered.  I hoped they did not read the UMNS articles and I am certain they don’t get news from twitter.

As discouraged as I am after my first Genera l Conference, I look with fresh eyes at my mission field and pick up the only net I have. Torn as it may be in the denomination of my ordination, I lovingly grasp it and GO into the mission field as Christ has called me to do.  I visit the hospital, talk with my confirmands, and prepare my sermon.  I am excited about our church’s missional microcommunities, our new church start, our ministry with the poor, our plans to reach refugee and immigrant populations, our children’s choir and our community garden.  God is right here showing me the path to take today.  God is at work in the grass roots of our denomination.  More than ever, in the local church.  There is hope for Methodism and a new call to mend our nets in Portland in 2016.

Rev. Jan Davis

First Rowlett UMC, Rowlett Texas