A recent controversy among evangelicals online has started me thinking about gender and what kind of people should be visible in our churches.
In the last few weeks, a lot of people became angry with Mark Driscoll because he asked, via Facebook, for stories about “the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader” people had seen. Quite a few people characterized Driscoll’s statement as bullying. He later posted an explanation with a story about a “blue-collar” guy who said he was turned off from church by an effeminate worship leader. Driscoll responded by pointing to poet/warrior King David as the manliest of men.
The problem with Driscoll's example is that he defends the manliness of the church instead of asking why something different might make someone uncomfortable. Now, I don't think churches should be intentionally finding ways to chase off potential converts, but I do think Driscoll's response was all wrong.
Rather than explain that Christianity is for manly men who kill people, he should have said it's for everybody, even people who make us uncomfortable.
Jesus spent a lot of time with people who made both the Pharisees and his disciples uncomfortable. When Mary poured expensive perfume all over Jesus feet and wiped it up with her hair, the disciples were uncomfortable. But Jesus accepted her offering of love and respect for what it was. In some cases, the disciples had good reasons to be uncomfortable; say, if they feared contracting a disease like leprosy. But the gospels seem to go out of their way to show Jesus’ ministry including a wide variety of people who were marginalized for all kinds of reasons.
I was reminded of "Sweet Tea," an ethnography of black gay men in the South. Many of these men attended black churches and sang in the choir, despite the regular pronouncements against their identity from the pulpit. The author asked why they did this, and one response about singing in the choir has stuck with me: "Baby, it ain't the army where you can be all that you can be, it's the church." Isn't that what we want people to say about our churches? Don’t we want the church to be a place for people who have a hard time finding a place?
But as Tyler Clark’s response to Driscoll illustrated, gender performance is about a lot more than sexuality. There are a lot of ways to be male and female and sometimes I think we accidentally spiritualize our own ideas about what is ideal, rather than listening to God’s word and loving each other.
We live in a culture where it is hard to find spaces for certain kinds of gender performances to be accepted and valued. The church has an odd history, but in our best moments, we welcome gifts from those who offer them. Sometimes that looks like a flamboyant choir director and sometimes it looks like an unexpressive patriarch barely singing along. But surely the heart of God is big enough for both of them. If we try to hide the ones volunteering leadership skills, we'll be the lesser for it.