26 April 2007

A Problem in Practical Theology

Here is a thought-problem.

I've received a mail-shot from a respected international Christian organisation with a very well-known name asking me to identify for them the names of "local Christian business and professional men".

Now, one thing I do not have any indecision about - I would never provide any organisation the names of people without asking permission of the people first. That's a no-brainer (just in case anyone is reading this blog and worried that I might do!).

But let's take a look at this issue of Christian "business men". Why "business people" and why "business men" rather than "business men and women"?

As far as I can tell, there is no reason that this should be men and not women. Although I know that some of my Christian sisters and brothers wouldn't agree, I don't actually have a problem with single-sex groups that are set up to provide fellowship for either men or women; I think that sometimes we're more comfortable with our own gender.

But no. It appears that this organisation simply wants to be able to - in the words of their letter - 'extend...interdenominational ministry' in our local area. But apparently only men can help them do this. Hmm.

The other issue for me is the qualifier "business". The area in which I live is 18% at the bottom of the scale in terms of social deprivation. Many of the town's long-term disadvantaged live here. So I guess that they aren't interested in extending interdenominational ministry in our neighbourhood, but boy does the neighbourhood need it.

The thing is that I'm vitally interested in interdenominational ministry[1] for these very reasons. However, everything about this mailing - including the faith-requirements for the names of the people I would send to them - screams male-headship to me. On the other hand, I feel that I need to be able to get along with Christians who hold these beliefs.

There are two people I know who fit this group's criteria of being male and having their own businesses. One of them would, I'm fairly certain, disagree with the group's faith-cum-doctrinal requirements. Do I tell these men that this organisation is looking for the names of people like them, or do I just bin the mailing?

I have to say I'm disappointed. I would have hoped that otherwise venerable Christian groups that did good work like this would try to walk a line that is a bit more centrist. Even if they had given me some reason as to why people had to be involved in business and the professions I would have felt more comfortable, but the letter even gives a list of eligible professions and businesses without any apparent embarrassment.

What would Jesus do? I guess he'd be qualified on one count (gender) but not on the other (business man).

[1] If you've received a similar mailing, you know that this is a particular sort of minstry, but one which I'd otherwise be happy to support.

10 comments:

Sandalstraps said...

In their use of the term "business men," were they intentional exclusive (that is, they really mean for it to onlly apply to adults with penises) or were they (perhaps worse) intending to include women under the heading of men?

Sometimes we use gender-exclusive language (man, mankind, etc.) in a way that - as you know - is designed to implicitly include women in categories that are given male descriptors. Could that be what they were doing, rather than intentionally limiting inclusion to men?

In any event, I have serious problems with the mailing (as you describe it) not limited to the "business" or the "men." I don't like any group pretending that they are entitled to such information, and that pastors should feel inclined to give it to them. And if my pastor (she wouldn't) ever gave my name to a group like that, I'd be hopping mad. Even if I agreed witht he group's cause. I value my privacy, and expect others do too.

PamBG said...

I don't like any group pretending that they are entitled to such information

They seemed to be appealing to the clergy for our co-operation. I'm assuming that any clergyperson worth his or her salt wouldn't pass on such information without first asking.

Sometimes we use gender-exclusive language (man, mankind, etc.) in a way that - as you know - is designed to implicitly include women

I could be wrong, but these lingustic pointers made me think they were were talking about people with penises: "...we wish to invite Christian men and their wives from your congregation to a dinner meeting..." "The type of man to whom we would like to extend an invitation is....He must believe....He should be a man who....In other words, he should be a dedicated Chrstian man, and he should be a: businessman (list positions) or a: professional man (list profesions)"

This doesn't sound like anything intending to use "man" as a generic word for "person" (and even if it were, I'd be wary).

My serious question still remains: if I think that it is good for mainstream Christians not to isolate themselves from this end of the Christian family, do I tell the two men I know who fill their criteria?

Beyond Words said...

Pam, the other assumption is the wives' value is being in the supportive role regardless of the ministry and contribution they may have outside of supporting their husband in his business. I wonder how we can respectfully raise awareness of this.

I'm dreading a dinner coming up to honor the wives of men in leadership in my church. Last year, in spite of the fact that the women were giving testimonies of leading people to Christ, the pastors kept saying, "Thank you wives for staying home so the men can fight the battles."

PamBG said...

Pam, the other assumption is the wives' value is being in the supportive role regardless of the ministry and contribution they may have outside of supporting their husband in his business.

I think that's right, but thank you for making it explicit. Although I grew up in male-headship, it's actually a fairly foreign concept in British Methodism. I'm not sure that such messages are appropriate for people to be "getting" subliminally.

I'm actually wondering if I should write back a letter politely explaining the issues I have with the whole enterprise?

Sandalstraps said...

Pam,

That might be a good idea. I'm sure at the very least that writing such a letter will give you a momentary sense of peace. When we alllow such problematic forms of communication to remain unchallenged we feel this tug to do something. Doing something, as best as I can tell, makes that tug go away.

Write a letter, if that's what you want to do.

As for whether to tell the two people you know who fit the bill, of course that's up to you. I wouldn't, but that's because I do see nearly as many redeeming features to this kind of movement. If you think that, overall, the cause is worth supporting, and that those two men might get something worthwhile out of participating in it, then you'd be justified in telling them about it.

Me, I'd burn the letter and dance over its ashes, but I'm just crazy like that.

Sally said...

Pam I agree with you- you were absolutely right not to give them information- I think I may have gone back to them to ask why they thought you might be willing to divulge it!
On the exclusive front; nobody has a good excuse today for such discrimination- so I would seriously question their theological standpoint. As for wives in supporting roles etc- wake up folks it is the 21st century- how sad that this is an ongoing battle.

crystal said...

The letter would bother me and I'd probably just trash it, although burning it and dancing over it's ashes sounds more festive :-)

PamBG said...

I think I've decided to bin it and then do a little festive dance.

My thoughts: I think that the importance of engaging with the very conservative end of Christianity is probably for our immediate community. It is good to get to know each other personally and break down barriers in that way.

But, at the end of the day, I don't think this mission is going to be that local. The people in my small churches are already doing a lot for the community as well as for the church.

In the bin it has gone with a distinct sense that it was right to just throw it out. :-)

Rob said...

Hi Pam!

I think I know the organisation you have mentioned, and even took up an invite for dinner at what was effectively a recruiting event. I was rather annoyed by the thought that although I could join, had I been female I'd have had to find a suitable husband first...

It's a shame as the work is carried out enthusiastically and has many merits - but I don't like the fact that they are deliberately excluding a large chunk of people on the grounds of gender.

PamBG said...

I was rather annoyed by the thought that although I could join, had I been female I'd have had to find a suitable husband first...

I didn't actually realise that women can't be members of this organisation in our own right.

Now I AM thinking about writing to them again to ask about their policy of excluding single women.