Ira Glass, a Jewish atheist and well-known radio personality, said once “Christianity is number one for a reason. It is a great story.” So begins Lisa Weaver Swartz’s concluding chapter in Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power,.
The power of a story.
If you tell yourself a story often enough – so and so was wrong, I am right – I was not the abuser but the abused victim – Republicans are pure evil, Democrats are pure goodness and vice versa – if you tell your story often enough that narrative can live in your head and direct your paths.
Honest people strive for a transparent story that opens itself to correction.
Others protect their story so vociferously they can tolerate no other facts and they denounce even solid, strong facts as fraudulent. They realize there is too much to lose if the story changes.
A story that lives in our heads can form us; a story in our heads may be designed to preserve a new power we find in that story; but a new story can also become an act of resistance. Because some know the power of stories – their story and dismantling counter stories – they choose to surround themselves only with people who will affirm their story. It’s easier that way; you get to indwell your own bubbled story. Until the bubble bursts. Truth is a pin.
Weaver Swartz explains the power of stories at work in Southern Seminary and Asbury Seminary.
Stories as Formation
Both Southern and Asbury tell a Bible story; each of their stories overlaps and differs; both tell a gendered gospel story. These stories evoke emotion, meaning, and agency. One is about the “beauty of complementarity” and the other about the “freedom of egalitarianism.” Each has its leaders and heroes; each is profoundly formative.
Southern’s narrative, she concludes, is a “remarkable success.” Its story is a living, shaping, forming story. Asbury’s story is powerful, too – the whole gospel for the whole world. But Asbury’s gender story is “decoupled” from its mission story in that the gender story is about who does what in the church. She thinks the mission story overwhelms the gender story at Asbury.
Stories as Preservation of Power
“This book is about men’s command over institutional, cultural, and religious power.” Patriarchal power is maintained in both of these seminaries. This theme struck me as I read Lisa’s book – it’s not heavy, it’s not always on the page, but it’s there.
When men create the culture, the culture is for males especially.
Power is about what is centered in the culture. Complementariansim at Southern, genderblindness at Asbury. Both center married white men. Genderblindness, in other words, does not erase patriarchy because it, too, was formed by males and in the formation itself it was for males (mostly).
The inequalities are not spelled out; they are embodied in practices and habits and actions. Women are in liminal spaces, both empowered and marginalized at the same time. They become complicit by code-switching into acceptable roles and behaviors. As such, these women can lack ownership when it comes to the stories being told. “To live on the edges of the dominant story and to be told that this position is one of ‘equality’ and ‘empowerment’ is not, in the end, very empowering.”
“To live on the edges of the dominant story and to be told that this position is one of ‘equality’ and ‘empowerment’ is not, in the end, very empowering.”
The gender issues are intersectional as well: race, social class, and marital status. The old tools maintain homeostasis at each institution.
The stories being told entails power over the culture.
Stories as Resistance
Different stories can be the tool of resistance. The tensions of race in America today are being met by the stories created by and for white men with power and the tools in their toolkit are not capable of putting genuine equality and justice in place. She’s not written a book of “boosterism” but instead one of “lament.”
The patterns are not inevitable. They are socially constructed; what is constructed can be reconstructed.
What narratives can reshape…
The historic counter narratives of each tradition at these two seminaries may be appealed to but those narratives have not been the formative voices in those stories.
New stories, better stories, are needed. The Bible’s got the stories that empower the margins, that resist the powers, that promise that God will make all things right. What holds evangelicals back from social equities is not the Bible, but culture’s scripts and tools. They will need to listen to a multi-disciplinary world that approaches each problem from its own angles and sheds shades of light.
“In the end, churchmen like Al Mohler and Owen Strachan may overpower women like Beth Moore. They may reinforce stained glass ceilings. But Moore, operating at increasingly porous borders, has her own power. Godly Men cannot out-Bible a restive Woman of the Word. No one knows and loves the Bible like Beth Moore.” #boom
I love this book.