I had the most interesting experience this Sunday. Our church, which is a fairly conservative flavor of Lutheranism, had a congregational meeting. At issue was whether the church should change its constitution to allow women to serve as vice-president and president of the church council.
From the outside looking in, it would appear that our church is decades behind the times. In some ways, they’d be right. But what happened yesterday was testament to the power of community and culture, and the hard work of intentionally considering our community:
I walked into the sanctuary expecting the meeting to be a quick and easy vote to change the church constitution. Of course we would allow women on the council, I thought. We filed in, signed our names on the attendance sheet, and grabbed the proposal.
The pastor started the meeting with a prayer, making some vague reference to “contentious issues.” Then the council president gave a brief run-down of the proposal.
“We found that few people are interested in council positions,” he started, “We changed the wording in these two rules to allow for women to serve as council president. Any discussion?”
The church remained silent for a minute. I figured that this vote would be nothing more than procedural. But one of the older and highly respected members of the church raised his hand.
“It’s not that I don’t support this,” he started, “but I believe that women are the heart and the center of the family. Their role is so important. I don’t want their responsibilities on the church council to take them away from that important role.”
The congregation sat in silence for a few moments, considering what had just been said.
Another respected member of the church raised his hand. “I support this idea, but are we doing this for the right reasons? If we’re only allowing women to fulfill this role because the men don’t want to do it, aren’t we just ignoring the real problem?”
Again, there was silence as the congregation considered his words.
A woman spoke up, “Here’s the way I see it. By not allowing women to serve as president, we are essentially leaving half of our talent pool untapped. Why would we do that?”
The conversation continued in much the same way for another half an hour. Each member humbly offered his or her opinion. After each person spoke, the congregation reflected on their words in a few moments of silence.
From the outside looking in, people might be shocked that a group of 21st century Americas were actually having a conversation about whether women should be in leadership roles. But from the inside, that’s not what happened at all.
On Sunday, our community came together to have a discussion. In a very authentic and intentional way, we decided how to change our culture.
The respect that had been built from decades of mutual work and experience allowed each member to talk honestly and openly. Everyone was shown respect for their opinion and words – not because it was the right thing to do, but because they had earned that respect from years of service to the community and by their evident spirituality.
Furthermore, we talked thoughtfully about how this change would affect our community and culture. Popular and homogenized culture demands that people change according to the will of the masses, but a true community examines the value and merit of changes that will affect its culture, even if their choices put them out of the mainstream.
That’s why I respect the Amish so much. They have spent centuries, as a culture, determining how new fashions, new technology, and new beliefs would affect their culture. And overall, they’ve decided the culture of the populous is not a healthy culture. Instead, they have kept the family and the community at the forefront of their values.
In the end, we did decide that women should be allowed to be council president by a vote of 42-2. It was undoubtedly the right decision even if it was a few decades late. But more importantly, we had the conversation. That’s were the hard work of community begins.