Criticism and the Church
It annoys me that the Church is so bad at hearing and dealing with criticism. There are plenty of things the Church needs to hear, reflect on and respond to, particularly from its own members and especially if it is to regain credibility as a place where people’s hurts are healed.
This post is based on a comment I wrote for this post, which is worth reading in its own right, and which bares only partial relevance to what I write here. I realise this is a sore topic of contention, as most issues of privilege and hierarchy are.
I was having a discussion with someone just the other day about the way in which many politicians and wannabe politicians, particularly right-of-centre, are increasingly resorting to an image of being Reasonable™ to get their own way. Any and all opposition is illegitimate if someone puts their point in a way that deviates from being Reasonable™, i.e. shows any emotion in making their point.
In the case of politicians, it seems to be born partly out of the belief that scientific reason should dictate policy, blind to any and all human suffering that may arise. It seems incredibly at odds with what Christianity is meant to be about. But in reality, its a way of shutting down an argument I’ve seen used in churches, most commonly on issues of gender justice and social justice.
Focusing on gender justice issue, when men talk calmly, they do so from a position of everything being ok for them. When women talk calmly of their position in church, its most often because they’re resigned, happily or otherwise, to fulfil a stereotype in which they have little say in what happens. It really irks me that what is going on is men defending their own position in the church by refusing to listen to anything they don’t like. For the men talking calmly, safe in their own position of relative authority and historical privilege, any woman who doesn’t do likewise must seem like quite a threat.
The fact that women seem to be told off more often for getting angry over debates in churches could come down to any number of things. One suggested reasoning is cultural conditioning – they haven’t been taught to raise their opinions without getting angry, or wait longer before “letting it all out”. I really don’t buy this one at all. Much more likely that they’ve learnt the need to make much more of a fuss when they want to change things as they’ll be ignored the first time round. I could see this happening when I was a child, and it grates no less now. It could also be because men feel they have less to get worked up about, or simply because there’s actual less of them.
I’m not sure its strictly limited to women or to gender issues, as the post I launched this one from implies. I’ve found on numerous occasions that applying any kind of political analysis to a church or Christian organisation will be taken far worse than applying an analysis to a political or cultural entity. I reject any notion that it has to be this way: in fact, it has to change or the church will not survive.
But the reason its so horrifying to see such a reaction in gender debates is that this is where the greatest, most common and most stark internal injustice of the church so often rears its head. Race? We often have separate churches. Economics? Very often the working/under class are just plain excluded. Gender? Its laid out clearly inside many churches, with men visible at the front and women (who usually outnumber the men) invisible in the pews or at the back.