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Rhythms of Repentance, Lament, and New Life: Partnering with Women in Ministry by Grant Hofman

Rhythms of Repentance, Lament, and New Life: Partnering with Women in Ministry by Grant Hofman

Our seminary has recently taken some crucial steps toward illuminating whether or not the seminary is a safe and healthy environment for our female students: focus groups to bring forward the testimonies of women’s experience at the seminary; an executive statement summarizing the discoveries of these sessions for the wider seminary community; the requirement for staff and faculty to undergo Title IX training and a corresponding encouragement for students to be trained as well. These events have led me to prayer and reflection, asking what the responsibility of our male students ought to be as the seminary takes further steps toward making our institution safe, healthy, and hospitable for our female students. Emerging from this introspection, I have been convicted of several rhythms I feel we must practice:

We must boldly speak truth. It is vital that we honestly name sexism and express anger in fitting response to harm, hostility, or neglect of our female students. We must have the boldness to call our peers to account when they discriminate in the hope that “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” [1].

We must humbly submit to truth. In order to speak truth about sexism, we must first hear the words of our female students. We must not only call others to account, but hold ourselves accountable to recognizing the discrimination in our own hearts. Taking the Title IX training is a vital step in illuminating our sexism that will allow us to begin to unlearn this generational sin we have inherited. It runs deep through years of our history, so we must continue to carve space to listen to the stories of our female students and seek their honest insight and accountability as we work toward making the seminary a safe space.

As we take this posture of listening, it is crucial that we avoid dismissing, calling our women to see genuine experiences of pain in a different light or claiming the intentions were not sexist; we must also avoid minimizing, simply crediting women’s substantive experiences of hostility to their feelings or emotions; we must also avoid a condescending tone as if women are an object of our pity to be fixed. Rather than suppressing the narratives of our female students in such ways, we ought to affirm the legitimacy of their account. Hearing such stories of discrimination and pain should in turn move us to advocate for the structural and personal changes necessary to foster a safe and healthy community. Instead of dismissing or minimizing, we must affirm and advocate for our female students.

We must die to ourselves frequently, both as individuals and as an institution. Just as Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for our sisters [2]. This requires a constant rhythm of repentance. It requires we honestly name our sins and “put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”[3].

We must examine ourselves, repenting of the harm we have done to women and putting off our old selves that stood silent before discrimination. We must also examine our institution, repenting of the way its structures have hindered women’s ability to pursue their calling and putting off its old self that refused to support our women in their sense of call. By shedding our old selves through repentance and self-sacrifice, we might be made new in the attitude of our minds, putting on a new self, safe and hospitable, in Jesus Christ.

This further requires we move into a space of lament, crying out to God with the ways the shalom of our community has been disrupted. We lament that our sisters have not been treated as fully bearing the image of God because of male-centered speech and written word, as though women are less than human. We lament that we have not welcomed and supported women in community as fellow-laborers in Christ, but have often left them isolated and invisible. We lament how we have lost the feminine imagery of God in Scripture, clinging to stereotypically male portrayals of the Godhead. We lament the way in which we have written our sexism onto the bodies of women, as if their choice in clothing at the pulpit is the problem, rather than our own disordered sexuality. We lament how we have scapegoated our shame onto women. We lament that, though our denomination finds it a biblically faithful position to ordain women, so few women end up on our syllabi, adding to our theological narrative. We lament the fact that women’s voices have been buried underneath the rubble upon which the bricks of our institution were laid.

Listen. Affirm and advocate. Lament. Repent. With such a rhythm, both our women’s, as well as our corporate seminary and church bodies can be freed to fully express the gifts given by the Spirit to every member of the body of Christ. Then we will more fully embody the new life of our free and risen Savior, through whom the “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”[4] a

[1] Ephesians 4:15

[2] 1 John 3:16

[3] Ephesians 4: 22b-24

[4] Ephesians 4:16


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