A so-called “open letter” is a time-honored way of public correspondence intended to reach a much wider audience than is ordinarily possible for a traditional letter with a named recipient. In this modern age of instant and worldwide communications via the internet, the usefulness of such open letters would seem obvious. With its inherently public nature, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have all but eliminated private and personal correspondence. For many, especially members of younger generations, personal and private letters addressed to individuals have been completely replaced by social media “posts” and “comments.” Yet, despite any number of negative consequences of that inescapable reality, the legitimacy of an open letter still remains valid in appropriate circumstances in order to address issues that have already been presented in the public domain.
Some weeks ago, toward the end of June, more than 90 officers in the OPC determined that such circumstances existed. “An Open Letter from Concerned Ministers and Elders in the OPC” was published online. It was an unusual step for men typically given to much more traditional means of communication—to say nothing of a more ordinary sense of presbyterian order. The motivating cause of this open letter was to express “deep concerns” regarding a matter that has become quite the rage online for the past months and even couple of years. To use the exact words of that open letter, the first concern was that some women who are members of our church [the OPC as a whole], “have been subjected to disparaging comments which are ‘corrupt,’ ‘foolish talking,’ and ‘coarse jesting’ (Ephesians 4:29; 5:5).” Those offending comments were published in a Facebook group identified as Genevan Commons, a group defining itself as private and demanding secrecy from its members even though its membership was, at one time, in the neighborhood of one thousand. The concerns of this open letter were not merely that some members of the Genevan Commons “would attempt to hide behind a group that pledges itself to secrecy, as if ‘locker room talk’ could somehow be exempted from the accountability of the church on the basis of an alleged right to privacy” (again, the exact words of the open letter), but that some specific women authors (Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller were identified by name) had become the objects of critiques which the signers of the open letter found to have an “overtly misogynistic tone.” To express that concern verbatim, “Rather than thoughtful critique, we are dismayed to find officers of the church deriding and mocking others. Such behavior is completely unacceptable towards our sisters in Christ. It is the opposite of love…Rather than honoring women the way that Christ has honored his precious bride, these men have encouraged each other (and indirectly, the rest of the church and the world now that these words are made public) to disparage women.”
Our Session is very sympathetic to those concerns and two Session members were among the signers of that open letter. Additionally, I am thankful for the profitable, personal conversations that I have had with a number of you about these matters. If you are interested in further details, an abundance of material is available via online searches and I would be glad to point you in the right direction.
I am also thankful that at the July 9-10 meeting, our presbytery approved a request to appoint a special committee “to investigate the matters pertaining to the Genevan Commons Facebook Group and attendant matters.” The motivation for that request comes from the awareness that several of the leaders and more active participants in Genevan Commons come from our presbytery. The Moderator appointed to that committee Ken Montgomery (our new stated clerk), Matt Holst (who had brought the original motion requesting a committee), Vernon Shoaf (a Ruling Elder from the Greenville congregation), Lowell Ivey, and Mike Myers (a contributing member of Genevan Commons). No one who signed the open letter was appointed to the committee. Though I can only wait to see how helpful this committee’s work will be, no doubt the investigation and public scrutiny will be extremely beneficial.
These are important matters. Not only do they deal with the godliness of our behavior related to the sinfulness of coarse joking and personal mockery, but the underlying issues are brought to the surface as well—namely the whole relationship between men and women as male and female. There is much to be debated and much to be rejected in the notions of modern patriarchy which assert simply that women are weaker than men and inferior in their ontological essence, inferior by their very nature, called therefore by God exclusively for domestic work and for submission to the rule of men. Typically included in such patriarchy is the conviction that women are gullible and more easily deceived than men, thus disqualified and forbidden by God to speak or write on matters of biblical doctrine or theology even in the informality of personal conversation (with anyone other than her husband) or public discourse. A clear summary of that view of women is articulated by Joseph Spurgeon (a pastor in Indiana, not in the OPC) in an online article entitled Will someone love Aimee Byrd, which article concludes with these words the author addresses to Mrs. Byrd personally: “Stop and be quiet. Go live a quiet life. Love and submit to your husband. Love your children. And be a keeper at home. To her husband: Love your wife enough to tell her to shut up.”
Those words trouble me greatly. In such formulations of the relationship between men and women, gone are the numerous biblical references to relating to one another as Christians. Gone is the sense of honor and respect and even submission we give to one another without reference to gender. (Ephesians 5:21) Gone also is the delight which Adam had in the creation of Eve, a helper made corresponding to him, comparable to him, according to Genesis 2:23, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The delight of the man was that his “helper” would correspond to him as his ontological equal, created from him to be like him. His delight was that the one who would honor him, the one who would submit to him, would do so freely and willingly as a creature who corresponded to him in her essential being. She was created for him and from him, and they, together, male and female, were created in God’s image. Not one superior in essence to the other, but perfectly corresponding in their essential unity of bearing together the divine image.
None of that denies the biblical responsibility for the exercise of authority and submission within the family, the church, and the state—relationships which God has ordained. But neither do those relationships deny the mutual honor we owe to one another as Christians nor the essential unity we enjoy as human beings created in God’s image, such that there is now “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
As men and women, may we delight to be His image bearers, “heirs together of the grace of life.” (1 Peter 3:7) May God to enable us to live out faithfully what it means to be creatures made in His image, male and female. (Genesis 1:27)