what could be: equality practiced

there is no more beautiful art than to see a person, a man, a woman, a child, crafted in God’s image and living as fully into that image of God that only they can fill. it not only makes them more beautiful, it makes God more beautiful.

–  christa romig-leavitt

i have had fun writing this series of what could be, but i have to say i have also realized that on the whole, i have said almost all of these things before in more ways than one.  what it is doing, though, is forcing me to contain these thoughts into something a little more tangible and in-one-place for once. i also had the privilege of spending an evening with the emerging desert cohort in phoenix this past weekend & sharing a bit of my story, the refuge story. i realized something extremely significant for me while i was there:  we are doing this!  some of these dreams are really coming true. sure, it is ugly & messy & trust me, not nearly as cool as our website looks.  but the bottom line is that these elements really are present in our community. they aren’t just pipe dreams or lip service.  that brings me great joy in the midst of the hard work.

so far, what could be, my dreams for “the church”, include:  God expanded, pain welcomed, doubt honored, power diffused.  (the ones i haven’t written on yet are:  love, mercy & compassion extended, justice pursued, creativity expressed & freedom celebrated)

when i see this list i realize how critically important & utterly intertwined each of these elements really are.  you can’t just pull one of these out and have the rest of them work.   they are interdependent.  this is radically obvious when it comes to issues of equality.  in my opinion, there’s absolutely no escaping the importance of true blue equality in a community of Christ-followers.  if you’re been reading the carnival for a while, you have heard all of this before. if you’re new here, you can read more about some of my thoughts if you just go to the sidebar category “equality” (yeah, i am not ashamed to say, i am a broken record!)

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to me, equality is much more than just gender.  sure, gender is one of the most obvious ones to focus on, especially when it comes to those from an evangelical persuasion.   until the barriers are broken down between men and women in the body of Christ, a chasm of lost experience, healing, and wholeness will always be present in our communities.  i believe wholeheartedly, in every fabric of my being, that men & women should learn how to work & live & love alongside each other as brothers & sisters in the family of God (my friend dan brennan is writing some really important material about cross-gender friendships & their healing power in the kingdom).  i think that more healing than we could ever imagine will happen when we take sex and power out of the equation & model to the world the radical equality that Jesus brings to a world frought with inequality, injustice & oppression.

this kind of example then cuts into other forms of equality like:  socioeconomics, race, education, life circumstances, just to name a few.  the “church”, the beautiful wild body of Christ, is supposed to be the one place where the playing field is leveled  & all are equal,  i love galatians 3:28-“there is no longer jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female.  all are one in Christ Jesus.”

part of changing the face of churchianity will be us getting in touch with just how prejudiced we are about all kinds of things.  sexism. racism. classism. dogmatism. we want to say that everyone has a fair shake & we see everyone equally, but the truth is that rarely, if ever, is that ever truly practiced.  power & fear has a crazy, insidious way of ruining equality and keeping people marginalized subtly, directly & in every way in between.

so what does equality really look like for us as people, as communities?

yet again, i think it sort of goes back to what i’ve already written on power diffused.  so many of the same things apply.  everyone has a voice, everyone is welcome at the table, period.  i’d also add a few others:

practicing equality means we will have to be very intentional about it.  because of power issues, comfort zones, all kinds of other detractors, we tend to follow the easy, path-of-least-resistance ways which overtly & covertly lead to inequality.  this means we will have to pull hard the other direction, intentionally asking for new voices, encouraging women, minorities, and other underrepresented folks to step up to the plate and contribute fully.   we can never underestimate how foreign this really is for so many who have not ever had an equal voice before.  many are more than a little gun-shy.  this means that we will have to ask again, again, and again and nurture & affirm people’s contributions in small & big ways.  the next part of affirming people, once they are at the table alongside us, is to really listen, learn, and be willing to be influenced by them.  in short, being vulnerable to actual change which results as a natural part of being in relationship with them.

we will need to reckon with our prejudices. we all have them.  it’s a piece of our humanity & our brokenness that needs continual work. this means we will have to search our hearts and ask God to reveal what they are.  we will have to talk about this out loud, in community, with safe friends, to reckon with our tendency to judge, ignore, dismiss, all kinds of things that rob equality in our relationships & communities.  i had a dear friend who is part of the refuge who came to me  a long while back and asked for forgiveness.  i was like “for what?” he said, “for judging you for being a woman pastor.  i didn’t think i could listen to you, i thought you were violating the Bible, i thought you were wrong.  and i am so sorry.” i will never forget that moment, when my friend reckoned with his prejudice and had the guts to admit what he had been wrestling with.  yeah, i couldn’t imagine living out this community without him now.  but we wouldn’t have gotten there if he didn’t have the courage to own his prejudice, seek God, and stay in.

we must learn to make it normal. to be honest, we don’t talk about equality at the refuge, almost ever.  it’s just part of who we are and what we do.    you wouldn’t know that from what i write here, you’d think it was a hot topic every day, but actually that is just for the sake of raising awareness of it in the greater body.  for us, we just do it.   a while back a big-definitely-not-egalitarian-in-the-slightest-on-the-inside-but-woman-friendly-on-the-outside church had a woman guest speaker come for weekend services.  i can’t tell you the number of people who felt the need to tell me, declaring “isn’t that so cool?”  of course, they are barking up the wrong tree & i was incredulous, honestly.  how could you think that once a year a guest speaker from another organization comes to speak at your church and you are so proud of how they view women?  the only way to make these kinds of things normal is to make them normal.  to do them over and over and over again until you don’t think to mention it.

i could go on and on.  instead, i asked a few of my friends from the refuge, men and women on the journey together, what has it felt like to be in a community where equality (and not just gender equality) is practiced?

here are some of their responses (yep, i know a few of you will be happy about all their capital letters!)

“What has it felt like to be in a community where equality is practiced?  Honestly, it has been a challenge for me.  I am so used to finding leaders to idolize and place on a pedestal, that being a part of this community has provided a place for me to practice equal relationships.   Instead of following human beings and practicing idolatry with little regard to my spiritual growth, I can concentrate on seeking God as an individual practice and alongside of others.”

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” I don’t think much in terms of equality, but rather of love.  These work together toward the same thing, life in the Kingdom of God.  The local version is life in and out of The Refuge, which doesn’t have a confining boundary anyway.  It’s just a way of life,  I guess.  The ongoing opportunity to pull the log from my own eye becomes a daily devotion.  It is good to say “Hi”, and mean it.  Always a chance to listen, and then downshift another gear and REALLY listen.  When doing things, sometimes I take a chance and lead.  Sometimes I take a chance and follow someone else’s lead.  Practicing equality is mostly about practicing humility.  The kind of humility which allows beautiful and sometimes odd relationships to flourish, in service to the Kingdom.”

* * *

“Equality came to me as a surprise. I had to be away from the Refuge for a season. When I left I had a good professional vocation and a family. When I returned I was going through a messy divorce and lost my job. It was and is a hard time. It’s no surprise that I needed shoulders to cry on and a lot of ‘high maintenance’.  But, in this season of pain, I began to realize that I wanted to return to Christian discipleship.  In the world of ‘church USA corp.’ my first tasks would have been to reacquire a place of correct ‘stewardship’;  get a high paying  job, and get ‘back on track.’  None of this has happened. I’m fiscally completely out of the mainstream of our culture. My divorce legal work has been all pro bono, of necessity, and I get food from a food bank. I live in an 8’X45′ trailer with a roommate. But at The Refuge, in some strange way, I have become a leader. I’m not a leader in name but in relationship.  I have learned that leadership is not something you can earn, manipulate, or achieve; though I had spent a season in my former church experience doing just these things. The community, in love, naturally grants true leadership. It comes from weakness and openness and defenselessness. It is not a quid-pro-quo of power; rather it looks powerless. It is a sharing in that I fully recognize my weakness and my need for help, which opens a path for my brothers and sisters who need my help. I have not been appointed nor announced to position but have been anointed by conversation and relationship. True Christian leadership is ‘church USA corp. leadership’ turned on its head.  Kathy calls this, rightfully, equality. The Bible calls it servant leadership, ‘the first will be the last’. The idea of ‘the last’ means a lot to me right now. And when you really experience this equality it is in a community of friends that look to you for support and guidance while, at the same time, you desperately need the same from them.  Until we give up the ‘lead, follow , or get out of the way’ choices offered by the typical corporate church model,  I don’t think we can really truly in the deepest place in our hearts,  be ‘free in Christ’.”

* * *

“I was at what I call a ‘normal’ church just a couple of weeks ago with my husband who was leading worship for one of the church’s services. A man walked into the room during the sound check and it was clear he was someone as he strode in with confidence and walked up to the stage to talk to my husband (he turned out to be the lead sound/tech man). He made eye contact with me, and as he drew near I stood up to introduce myself to him; it was clear by his expression and his quick introduction that he in no way intended to actually introduce himself to me, let alone talk with me. Later before the service there was a time of prayer and as I stood to join the others leaders I noticed that I was the only woman. This made me realize how much equality I have every time I meet with my friends in the place of The Refuge. I have wanted this equality for a long time; in some situations I have experienced it within a framework of theatre or work or marriage but never have I experienced it within faith. Doing so has been lovely and empowering and scary and beautiful. I never asked The Refuge to consider me equal – they just did. I never asked The Refuge to consider me for more than women’s/children’s ministry – they just did. I have been given a gift. I was scared to open it. Scared of what it might mean to have myself fully able and fully acceptable in this place of faith. But, oh what a gift! To see myself through the eyes of equality and to see others through eyes that are more focused. To sift through the veil of gender, age, color, sex, financial status, etc. and to peer through to the heart and the mind of a child of God. There is no more beautiful art than to see a person, a man, a woman, a child, crafted in God’s image and living as fully into that image of God that only they can fill. It not only makes them more beautiful, it makes God more beautiful.”

yeah, equality is beautiful. here’s what i hope:

that we’d be courageous people willing to reckon with our prejudices and take radical risks to practice equality across gender, race, socioeconomics, and any other areas that create inequalities which  keep us  from seeing and loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

God, help us notice inequality & strive to be practitioners of equality in our relationships, our communities, in risky, new and creative ways.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

18 Comments

  • oh christa, what a waste of your talents to just be in “womens/childrens ministry” when God has called you to be sooo much more. when He has gifted you to be sooo much more. i am so glad and blessed that you opened up the gift that was truly God given. it would be a travesty for this gift to be left unopened!!

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  • Kathy,
    This is an excellent post…although, Kathy, ALL your posts are excellent! I love what you say here about equality. Indeed, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Our One and only Father is God. He is our authority. Under Him, we siblings are all equal in the Great Family.

    I also enjoyed what you said about not “pointing” out when equality occurs, because in doing so, we point out how “abnormal” the normal is, thus focusing on something which we automatically are wisest to simply acknowledge quietly in our hearts.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

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  • hey this entry really messed with my mind 🙂 loved it. These sentences were the craziest & best to me:

    “I’m not a leader in name but in relationship. I have learned that leadership is not something you can earn, manipulate, or achieve; though I had spent a season in my former church experience doing just these things. The community, in love, naturally grants true leadership. It comes from weakness and openness and defenselessness. It is not a quid-pro-quo of power; rather it looks powerless. It is a sharing in that I fully recognize my weakness and my need for help, which opens a path for my brothers and sisters who need my help. I have not been appointed nor announced to position but have been anointed by conversation and relationship”

    that just totally flipflops everything that has always been drilled into me upside down haha. I love it!!!! 🙂

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  • hey kathy – about galatians 3:28. Would love to hear more about your interpretations of some of these verses.

    We’re all one in Christ. and the next verse indicates we are all “heirs according to the promise” — but what do you feel about still having certain ‘roles’ based on how we’re defined in this earth/world. Do you think it’s abolishing all roles that we, in general, have? slave/free/woman/man. because the New Testament still taught about slave/free roles and how to be christlike in each of those roles and the same for women/men. they just taught on those because of the cultural context at the time?

    any other thoughts you can give me on your viewpoints – on email if you’d like? 🙂

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  • that last paragraph says it all …

    but has someone once said, I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there.

    BTW – I saw Beaver Creek on TV the other night – now THERE is a place I would love to ski!!!

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  • Mark, I came from a mainline church background. It doesn’t matter which one. But we have been electing women to the highest offices in our polity for over 50 years. I have had the honor to know some of the most gifted leaders in the spirit and in the body and some of the most incompetent, self-centered and selfish.I’m sorry but I don’t understand where your going. To me, as long as we’re electing and have a polity we have turned our backs on the equality of the cross.

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  • Doug – that quote was tongue in cheek and refers to politics, it was by Maureen Reagan. I agree with your view on electing.

    This by Martin Luther King Jr,- is more me:

    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” – well, ALL PEOPLE ARE CREATED EQUAL.

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  • Mark- thanks. After I re-read I realized I went off the deep end. My apologies.
    Thank you for the voice of St. Martin and the beautiful interpretation.

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  • Grrrrrrreat post Kathy! We have a long way to go, but this kind of passionate equality is more within the reach of men and women than ever before.

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  • Once again you do it.

    I am glad that you have not been tamed into a domesticated women. You are Wild like Jesus not tame and conformed to this world or the institutional church.

    As always you both challenge me and encourage me to continue on the path Dad has placed me on. You are putting into words things that live in me that I have been unable to or just have not been give the place yet to express yet.

    Tom Wilson
    http://www.ReligionFreeJesus.com

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  • equality. hmmm. can I say something about this subject that kinda drives me nuts sometimes?

    I am so incredibly glad for and encouraged by efforts to help single moms, those in prison, those who are in hospitals, those who are sick, victims of crimes, the homeless…

    What about those with mental illness? Severe physical disabilities?

    Where are the Christ followers in the Church that want to come alongside them?

    I am in relationship with many in the disability community and they are the least “churched” group of people in the United States. Why? Most Christians will build than ramp, get that interpreter – but invite them over for dinner? Welcome them in to serve in a real and not patronizing way? I know so many stories of so much heartache. Equality to me means a place where everyone in society is welcomed as an equal. Not paraded around as look at our deaf friend that we got an interpreter for, or what a great wheelchair ramp we have for our building…. That is not real access or equality.

    Then there are those who are struggling with mental illness. There is almost nothing pretty about this battle. The mental health field is statistically lacking in Christians, especially when it comes to those with severe mental illness. And the church is seriously lacking in ability to just be friends with those who battle mental illness in all its forms.

    I have to admit, sometimes I get jealous. I see all the programs and efforts and work to help so many people, especially this time of year – and then I go visit my uncle, so alone, fighting schizophrenia, and afraid to walk into a church because of all the stares. Or my friend with panic attacks, or another with severe depression. There are not many people who want to help their holiday be a little less dark. Where is the effort to love those in that kind of battle? a battle that has no romantic side, no easy fix, and often a lot of discomfort to even be around. When will those with mental illnesses be seen as equal brothers and sisters? And not leapers to be put aside, helped, fixed, sent off to go elsewhere.

    I am glad for the way God is working through the refuge. It is a place truly seeking and working to welcome anyone as an equal. It is truly a place of healing for everyone.

    sorry to rant and ramble on so long. I guess I had more to say than I thought I would.

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  • mike – yeah, i am so with you, i could never in a million years imagine christa limited to women’s or children’s ministry somewhere. how sad, so much beauty & power & courage & wisdom she has to bring. what a gift to get to see up close & personal equality in action!

    amy – i like that part best, too, that it’s just integrated and natural…

    randi – i really like those thoughts, too. i am not sure if you have ever read any of christians for biblical equality’s stuff (http://www.cbeinternational.org), but it is definitely worth checking out for indepth, scholarly scriptural interpretation of these kinds of questions. for me, yes, these scriptures point to a very specific context and the truth is that all kinds of biblical passages have been used to support slavery, too. i take the bigger context of full freedom that Christ brings for all people, all people, all people. when i hear Jesus speak of “your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven” it is really hard for me to imagine God’s kingdom being a place of inequality & limited roles that subjugate people under one another because of race, sex, & all kinds of other limiting factors that are man-made. i know there are many who see those scriptures differently, though.

    mark – yeah, it’s pretty wild, eh, the big ol’ double standards out there in all kinds of ways. and even though i’m sort of anti-snow i can honestly say the rocky mountains are about as beautiful as they come. but i’ll take the beach anyday 🙂 i love that mlk quote. two of my kids memorized it for speech meets over the past few years and every time they practiced it i’d want to cry.

    doug – i am glad you clarified with mark, and i do think you bring up a really good point, though, that in many organizations and systems where women might have equal access, the issues of power are always present, which will always pull us away from equality.

    dan – i agree, more action than ever in a good way. thanks for raising the banner…

    tom – it’s always nice to hear from you here. i used to be pretty tame, for a lot of years, so it has been very free-ing (and also very scary) to let it rip and speak loudly & boldly into such controversial areas. i am glad that some of what is expressed here resonates in your heart & maybe gives some words and language to frame it. thanks for sharing.

    512 – your comment came in just as i was posting this other one….i am so with you!!!!! we need to keep raising awareness about this whole issue and not push it aside as taboo or too scary or only for “the professionals” it really goes back to what i strongly believe that the “church”, the wild and beautiful body of Christ, is supposed to be the safest place on earth, but why in so many ways is it perceived as the most dangerous. this will take so much work, so much risk, so much raising of awareness, but i am deeply dedicated to keep hacking at it. this group is one of the most marginalized in so many ways, in the public sector, too. it’s time for that to change, and christ-followers should be leading the way to restore dignity and hope. thanks for sharing!

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  • yes! and it is h o r r i b l e in the public sector. So much shame and disregard… and the church isn’t much better, often worse. thank you for getting it!

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  • I love what you said about making equality so very normalized, and to the point that it isn’t even a landmine issue in your community, it is just practiced. This issue provides oh-so much hope for me as a woman, as I never EVEN dreamed there could be more for me ministry wise than the stained glass ceiling of childrens’-youth-womens’ ministry. I had just resigned myself to my talents being actualized in corporate America (which is sooo empty for me..) Things that I didn’t even dare to dream may actually be reality, and that, for me, could be history in the making. I am so excited to live it. 🙂

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  • Hey Kathy,
    Great post, as usual. The part of the body where I live & move & have my being 🙂 is an evangelical denomination where equality isn’t really practiced. I have wrestled with leaving for a number of reasons, including inequality, but decided to stay (at least for now). Do you think there’s hope for change from within a situation like mine? I would love to be involved in something like the Refuge, as that’s really where my heart is. I am seeing signs of change and wonder if perhaps God puts people like me in a church like mine as a catalyst of sorts. What do you reckon?

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  • hi kathy,
    Just catching up on reading my favorite blogs now that classes are finished and wanted to say that I think this is really the most touching of the ‘what could be’ posts for me–

    it’s particularly relevant right now because my ‘sabbatical’ reading list includes books on education and equality. Today, I read a short vignette about a group of kids on a field trip…they were from Hartford, Conn and their school had finally found money for a field trip across the river to the zoo. On a boat to travel across the river, the kids ran to the edge, leaned over and started laughing. Then, they gave the river a standing ovation… 100 kids who had never before seen such beauty–beauty that existed only ten minutes away from the projects where most of them lived–kids that the experts tell us are hardened, poorly performing, unmotivated students destined to become drug dealers and pregnant teens.

    what’s wrong with this picture?

    I echo your prayer…courage, boldness, justice and mercy.

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  • 512 – yes, the shame and disrespect and dignity-stripping makes me so angry!

    stacy – this always makes me so sad to hear, that somehow along the line a powerful, strong, wise, creative, woman like you would only “get” to do certain things just because you are female. it’s just so wrong! the normalizing part is really important to me, i want to keep emphasizing that we never talk about this as a community. i blab about it here all the time but as part of our regular life, it’s just part of our regular life. so excited that you are part of our community!

    sandra – oh it is so hard and i defintely do not have any easy answers. there are so many factors that have to be considered, one is whether or not it feels like God is really saying “stay, you are supposed to be here, use your voice to help shift things…” i know many people in that situation. i also know many people who are staying because they feel like they don’t have any other options that are apparent. i don’t think that’s a good enough reason to stay, really, and i do think that is what keeps oppressive systems in business. i also think that sometimes when we are called to be missionaries within existing systems that we need to get outside support, perspective, and care to strengthen us. otherwise, it is too lonely and sad and hard. that can take many forms: out here in online world, smaller groups, anyway that makes sure you keep getting infused with hope & wisdom & discernment. those are just a few things i’m rattling off on the top of my head, of course it only scratches the surface. i wish you didn’t live so far away so we could have a real conversation!!

    ryan – love, love, love the story. yes, it’s wrong. 10 minutes away, right there, and so unaccessible to them as a part of their regular life. let’s keep praying: courage, boldness, justice, mercy. see you soon!

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  • “Instead of following human beings and practicing idolatry with little regard to my spiritual growth, I can concentrate on seeking God as an individual practice and alongside of others.” Totally awesome!

    “I don’t think much in terms of equality, but rather of love.” Me too!

    Fantastic thoughts – all! Thanks for sharing your community’s thoughts on this. It’s a biggy that we tend to normally ignore (and pretend the inequalities don’t exist – like you said). Great stuff!

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