The Christian blogosphere, course corrections, and pink tractors.
I left the heavy duty Christian blogging ("theo blogging" we called it back in the early 2000's) behind several years ago for conscious reasons. I wrote about it, most recently, in a post entitled "Being Someone of No Reputation", which I wrote in all sincerity.
I am reminded of all of it after reading an article, "Who's In Charge Of The Christian Blogosphere", and the ensuing Twitter response. I entered into the fray for a short while, but really lacked the energy.
Permit me to tell you two stories.
I grew up on a farm with three sisters and one brother. My father didn't have us girls drive the farm equipment. Only my brother drove the trucks, tractors, and combines. I once heard a woman derisively say that my father had "pink tractor syndrome", i.e. that he didn't think a woman could or should drive big farm equipment.
My father had seen two very serious (and bloody) accidents involving my grandfather (his dad) and big farm equipment before I was born. One required a frantic drive nearly 30 miles to the hospital with a neighbor in the back seat doing chest compressions on my grandfather to keep him alive as my dad drove.
In later years, dad helped set me up with the big chainsaw so I could clear some trees. He also helped me find a flight instructor, and turned his airplane over to me so I could become a private pilot, never once hinting he didn't think I couldn't or shouldn't pursue aviation. I drove the lawn mower tractors, including an old beater from the 1940's (I think) that would spray oil on my leg at times. He let us ride in the back of trucks, tailgate down, or hop on the running board of a truck as he drove down the road. We took care of the horses and our 4-H animals, and he didn't blink or restrict us from doing a lot of really stupid things on our horses (hint: do not attempt to chase a bull moose; they run really fast). Nothing he did, or didn't, let us do indicated he thought we weren't capable of holding our own or not to be trusted with "men's" work.
Perhaps, instead of an oppressive patriarchy at work, my father was operating out of love and a desire to protect his daughters from danger and gruesome accidents that he'd seen firsthand, as well as a grandfather who was sometimes oppressive towards my dad and brother. My brother, father, and grandfather were enough to handle the farm, anyway.
I obeyed my dad because the Bible says we are to obey and honor our parents; this was made easy because my parents were not one to frustrate or abuse their children.
On to the second story.
During flight lessons, my instructor would always remind me to make "small course corrections." If I got off course while learning to navigate, I would be tempted to compensate by yanking the yoke to the opposite direction to get an immediate course correction, unwittingly over-correcting and setting myself off in an equally wrong direction. Whether I was off course in one direction, and over-corrected to the opposite, didn't matter. In either case, I'd never get to my destination. The better approach was to gently turn the yoke until the needle on the compass gradually was on course. It took time, and meant that for a while I had to accept I wasn't exactly on course but I knew, with gentle pressure, I would get there.
The first story is of the protective nature of authority structures that are based in real love (not power). The second story is about gentle course corrections.
We have a serious anti-authority problem in this country. I've commented about that a lot after the recent anti-pipeline protests that happened here in North Dakota, and I see it growing steadily in the unrest that seems to be infecting every part of the country. Whether it is as blatant as protesters throwing bricks through store windows and screaming that they refuse to acknowledge the leader of the nation as someone whose laws they will submit to, or as subtle as someone who harbors and promotes anti-authority and distrust in our leaders in the fields of medicine, politics, academia, and onward, the result is the same: we refuse to submit. (We = men and women.)
We seem to think that submission is about domination, about someone winning at our expense. It is a mindset that sees a father who wants to protect his daughters as a cruel and backwards man instead of a good father. It is a mindset, because the over-correction is happening, that sees any man in authority over a woman as abusive patriarchy (or a woman in a position over a man as apostasy) instead of one of two scenarios of an equal probability situation, if we were to get on course.
The article that set off the Twitter firestorm was well-written, by a woman who is a church leader. She expressed well the concerns I felt years ago when I stopped theo blogging, in regards to authority and its value and rightful place in Christianity. Yet the response almost immediately went to sex, racial, and economic divisions that people in this country seem all to willing to use as the reason for every disagreement. Perhaps it is ironic, but my father and mother, in what might seem to be outdated or "oppressive" traditional roles in which each submitted to and respected the other in a beautiful dance, gave me a secure home in which I do not at all feel held back as a woman, nor do I feel combative towards men. When I read the article, I immediately understood the value of authority the author described, having grown up experiencing it in a right way with empowering results. Because of how my parents modeled authority (even my father submitted to the authority of his father while farming), I know the difference between abuse and rightful submission to a leader, whether that leader is a man or a woman in whatever situation it might be.
It sounds un-American, but we need to submit. You say the word "submit" to some Christian woman, or even suggest that we need to be under authority, and she's likely going to react in one way: damn the men. There will also be some Christian men who perk up and think the wifey should head to the kitchen and make him a sandwich; abuse of authority is the over-correction for rebellion. Neither are what Christ intended, and both over-reactions feed off of each other to produce further over-reaction.
[Author's Note: If you are a man who thinks only women need to submit in any and all situations, please print this blog post out, take the pages into the kitchen, put them between two slices of bread (a "sandwich"), and eat it. Your exegesis of this post is a fail. You missed the point. And that's part of the point.]
It is good to work to end abusive authority, but not wise to end all authority. Iconoclasts are mostly know for destroying beautiful art; they aren't known for replacing it with something better. Godly authority is protective, instructive, and corrective, and is for men and women alike. If this is distasteful to you, you are going to struggle with being a servant of Christ. The fact that women responding to that article went immediately to Trump/patriarchy/how-dare-you-suggest-after-centuries-of-oppression-that-I-not-speak in their response to an article by a woman was odd (and likely born from past hurts). If this woman were leading my church, I would submit to her leadership simply because God had placed her there.
God places people--men and women--in authority as He will. He has created the human structures and systems of authority, and the Bible clearly shows His preference to obedience, which comes with the idea that someone is in authority. Why?
For starters, people are frustratingly rebellious and wayward, and simultaneously clamor for a king while refusing to obey, asserting their personal authority and leaving general chaos in their wake. People who refuse to live under authority, and glamorize rebellion as some noble pursuit, are a chaotic, unleadable, stiff-necked people. God is not a god of chaos, but of order. Order comes with authority structures: Obey the leaders of the land. Follow the laws of the place and time you live. Maintain order and respect in the church. Pray for, and respectfully work towards, needed change if there is abuse.
God values obedience, out of love for Him. A person who harbors rebellion and is enraged by even the suggestion that there is value in authority structures is going to struggle with obeying God. They are, instead, going to find ways to squeak around obedience and make it appear noble and new, perhaps writing blog posts and articles explaining away sin, when all it is, is rebellion. Rebellion is not where you learn humility, not where you learn how in your weakness God's strength is glorified. Authority and humbling yourself under it is the only way to change a person's heart into something God can use.
Blogging, by its nature (which is the nature of the internet), has no authority. I'm writing this late at night at the kitchen counter. I can push "publish" when I want to. On the internet, everyone can speak what they will, with no call to accuracy, rightness, or restriction. That sounds very American, and perhaps it is, but it isn't necessarily how God has structured things. How many times did God speak through one person to the many? Yet for Christian bloggers, we have the many speaking to the many. And for Americans, we don't like the idea that God doesn't speak to all the same, and may place others over us. The last shall be first is all well and good, but don't ask me to submit!
Recognizing and submitting to authority, whoever you are to whomever it is, is about discipline and the growth that comes from it. It is putting someone above yourself and learning humility. If you refuse to submit to authority, you never learn self-control. And, for Christian bloggers, that means we never learn to control our tongues. We don't have to. There is always someone out there fawning at what we write, saying "this is just what I needed to hear today!" or (worse) "this is what someone else/the church needs to hear today!" We get traffic and ad revenue instead of correction and instruction.
Christian bloggers are required to submit to no one, not editors, not pastors, not anyone. There is no authority structure in place.
And so bloggers meander about, knowing they have to keep writing or lose their readers and their platform (and perhaps relevancy, which means they lose their book deals). They write half-formed ideas, tossing them out there under the innocent "hey guys, I've just been thinking about this, I'm not sure where I'm going with it but it's something to think about" unable to see that they may be planting seeds that lead their readers out of the faith.
I can't get past Malachi 2:17:
You have wearied the Lord with your words. "How have we wearied him?" you ask. By saying, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them" or "Where is the God of justice?"
How wearying must all the theo blogs be for a God who wants His children to show they love Him by obeying Him, who wants His children to sing His praises instead of their own.
Somewhere, either to the left or right this place we're at, is the correct course: godly authority figures who don't abuse, and Christians who accept the place of them in their lives. But we over-correct every time, from abuse and subjugation all the way over to rebellion and pride.
Anyone who knew my blogging in years past can vouch for my periodic scorched-earth form of blogging. I am responsible for all of those words I said, and to the people who read them and perhaps made spiritual decisions in their life that will harm them in the long run. I acknowledge that. Now, I blog less than I used to, not because I have fewer things to write about, but because I pray before I publish and most of them don't pass the test.
Lord, don't let me weary you with my words. Your will be done, not mine.