Others questioned whether the committee’s recommendations were just “baptizing the status quo,” since they weren’t binding, anyways. “A little while ago, I was speaking in a church that said, ‘We don’t let women read the Bible in worship services,’” replied Dan Doriani, a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary who also served on the committee. “That statement was made to me about 20 minutes after a service ended, in which a woman read 20 verses of scripture. … They actually didn’t hear it happen.” What the committee was trying to do, he said, was “label the best practices that we weren’t even aware of.”
Aside from a few frank exchanges on the substance of the report, though, a good portion of the body’s time was spent on procedural back-and-forth: whether the committee was within its authority, what amendments should be made to each recommendation, how many minutes should be allotted to discussion. At times, pastors approached the mic just to ask what was going on, or to point out that a motion had been forgotten in the sea of procedural points that followed. The denomination, which strictly follows Robert’s Rules of Order, seems to work out huge questions of culture and theology this way: through legalism.
After many hours of debate, the body approved all nine of the committee’s recommendations. Leaders will now take these suggestions home and figure out what to do with them—“for many churches, this is going to be a fairly radical report,” Keller said during the meeting. For many, that will also mean hitting the internet for more blog posts, Facebook debates, and tweet storms. The report may be a formal reprieve for one small denomination, but the deeper cultural fractures are still there, and they’re getting worked out in much bigger and more public forums.
It’s reflected in debates over women’s ministries and blogging. In April, Christianity Today published an essay criticizing the “crisis of authority” in the “Christian blog-o-sphere,” especially for women. The essay bemoaned the lack of accountability for independent women’s ministries and authors, warning against the “lay people [who] suddenly become household names” from “the comfort of their living rooms.” Like the Truth’s Table podcast, the article led to an evangelical eruption.
Or it will show up in the way churches structure conversations by and for women. “You’ll get your token woman to talk about motherhood, or feminism, or parenting—being a good wife and all that stuff, or biblical womanhood,” said Aimee Byrd, a white woman who blogs at The Mortification of Spin. She wants to be able to “talk about all theology, and not just the pink,” she said.
Or it will play out in battles over the word feminism. “It’s almost like a conversation closer if someone can just call you a feminist in the conservative church,” Byrd said. She wouldn’t identify herself as a feminist, she said, “because there’s so many definitions of that word, and I wouldn’t want to attach myself to the pro-choice movement, or the sexual revolution, which I’m very much not [a part of].”