to make a decision

My decision-making process usually goes something like this: try to be rational but end up being emotive.

I want desperately to assemble all the relevant data, to make a comprehensive pros and cons list, to assign every piece of information a specific value, to add it all up and make the most logical choice possible. Life should be so clean!

But without fail, I get overwhelmed by my lists, resign myself to the impossibility of tracking down every last argument for one side or the other, cry to my poor patient husband, and collect myself in time to choose—regardless of the logical sense of the decision.

I feel this tension in my spirit every time I come to a major decision: which college to attend, which seminary, where to live, which classes to take, who to vote for.

Part of it stems from my subconscious hope that there’s a right answer for everything, that one side surely outweighs the other, that if only I had the mind for it, everything would be clear-cut. But I’m also convinced that the world is much more complex than our politicians give it credit for, and that collecting all the data is not only impossible but also unfruitful. Much more depends on how you read the data than how much of it you have.

Lately, the issue has been the nexus of gender identities, women’s ordination, complementarity, egalitarianism, and, more personally, my own call and my marriage with Dan.

This semester, I’m taking a class called the Ordination of Women, which is requiring me both to consider the arguments for each side and to come to a place where what I profess is rooted in a deep-seated conviction. We’re reading both Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Discovering Biblical Equality.  My nighttime reading has been Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church

So I was relief to hear one of my professors point me to this piece on NPR, in which two scientists discuss how we make moral decisions. Although they use examples of “moral dilemmas” of the sacrifice-one-to-save-many variety, the tension they highlight describes my mental process surprisingly well. While I’m trying hard to make a cost-benefit analysis, the part of my brain that operates in images is short-circuiting the rational part and offering its own judgment.

In terms of gender issues, this is what it looks like: The analytical portion tries to absorb all of the arguments for both complementarity and egalitarianism, to take in and interpret not only specific Biblical texts but also Scripture’s overarching themes, and to consider the historical data. But the visual part is busy sensing whether or not it could live with a certain set of images; for instance, can I picture my marriage with Dan as the leader?  Or can I imagine a church where Dan and I pastor as partners?

The piece on NPR does not suggest that the rational side has better judgment or, by implication, that it’s a better Christian (although, to be fair, classic Christian theology ranks Scripture and reason over experience as sources of revelation). In fact, having read most of Sarah Sumner’s book, I’m convinced that the usual arguments for both complementarity and egalitarianism miss the image captured in Ephesians 3. It’s an image, a metaphor, of the husband as the head and the wife as the body. “And the two shall become one flesh.”

Metaphors aren’t supposed to be prescriptive; they’re supposed to be evocative. What if Ephesians 3 is saying something more about the unity of the marriage and less about the leadership of the husband?

And so I want to be faithful by wrestling with Scripture on these subjects. But I don’t want to ignore the truth of the tear-pricked eyes of people in the congregation as I proclaim that Christ alone is our only hope of salvation.

[All these photos are from our weekend trip to Ludington, where we preached and led worship at Epworth Heights.]

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5 thoughts on “to make a decision

  1. Have you ever read “Created To Be His Help Meet” by Debbie Pearl? I read her book a couple of years after Patrick and I got married and it rocked my world and perspective. It is because of reading this book and Elizabeth Elliott’s book “Let Me Be A Woman” that I am passionately complementarian in my views of women ordination in the church. Pearl doesn’t talk about the ordination of women in the church parse, and neither does Elliott. Both books are about the wife’s role in the marital relationship. The view I have of my role as a wife informs my view on the ordination of women. Both of these women write from a perspective of joy vs. more joy that is contagious. 🙂

    With that said, I felt that your description you gave me this summer of the vision that you and Dan have for co-pastoring a church was very complementary. I think it would be wise if all senior pastor’s wives had some kind of masters of divinity in pastoral studies (especially the education in counseling that it provides). How much richer would our churches be if our pastors wives were well educated ministers along side their husbands!

    • Meredith, I’m so grateful for your friendship, because I do think we come down on different sides of this subject and yet you’ve helped me think about my call to ministry and Dan’s and my marriage. I haven’t read either Debbie Pearl’s book or Elisabeth Elliot’s, but I’ll put them on my list as books to investigate as I discern!

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post. The more important an issue is, it becomes harder to maintain ‘objectivity.’ I’ve always lamented that fact and tried to distance myself, but your post made me realize that while there are benefits to stepping back and being objective, we should not idolize objectivity. Especially with things we care about, we should allow ourselves to be invested in them. Investment does not contradict objectivity. I’ll have to continue thinking about how to remain invested without clouding my judgment as we wrestle with the books and texts of that class. Thanks for stirring these thoughts.

    I also really liked what you said about an image being evocative. By seeing Ephesians 5 as an evocative image, that changes the point of comparison between husband-wife relationships and the Christ-Church relationship.

    Thanks again for the post.

  3. Lovely post. I think it’s a good topic to struggle with. I personally feel strongly that there is no “one size fits all” answer. In a marriage, sometimes the man is the natural leader, sometimes the woman is. It’s about the personality and abilities of the individuals, and what works best for them in their relationships, what brings them joy.

    As an example based on traditional roles: I know some women who can’t stand being stay-at-home moms – they feel like they’re better people to themselves and their families when they have a career. And I know of some dads who thrive when staying home with the children. I also know men and women who are happiest in traditional roles. And many, many shades of gray in between.

    If marriage and family are a church on a small scale, perhaps this idea of a “custom fit” is true of pastors and congregations as well. If you and your husband lead your community best by co-pastoring, then isn’t that doing the best work? I’m sure there are other couples or pastors who find a more traditional set-up works best for them, with the wife or staff providing support. Many answers for a complicated question, I guess.

    • I tend to agree with you, Diana, that because the people who make up each marriage are unique, then every marriage is also unique and requires us to discern how our particular marriage functions in the most faithful way.

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