Tag Archives: Newfrontiers

Philippa Stroud, sexuality and me

I was a little bit bemused to take a look at my WibStats and find out in that in the last 24 hours the number of unique visitors to my blog had increased by 166%. Now, by anyone’s standards this is quite impressive. However, I then was meandering through a few groups on Facebook and discovered that someone has posted a link through to my blog from a group called “If Cameron cares an ounce about LGBT people, he’ll sack Philippa Stroud”. They link my blog to the group by stating that “her [Philippa Stroud's] church, New Frontiers, doesn’t just have an issue with lgbt people, but also women”.

I have to admit that I am quite bemused by this link and thought that the subject deserved a mention.

This subject has come up due to an article in The Guardian newspaper entitled “Rising Tory star Philippa Stroud ran prayer sessions to ‘cure’ gay people”. The article stated that the leaders of the church that Philipppa was involved in were praying for people to be ‘released’ from their homosexuality and there is a quote from a transexual girl who said that

“She [Philippa] wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”

The interesting thing for me is that I was certainly aware that things like this were going on in the Newfrontiers churches that I was part of about 10-15 years ago. At the time I was wrestling with my own perspective on sexuality and faith and was trying very hard to support friends who were coming out to church leaders who believed that they could be cured of their homosexuality. I am not surprised these issues are coming back to haunt Philippa, and I am equally not surprised that they happened. It would seem that the Newfrontiers view of gender is extremely black and white and if you do not fit into the cultural and social norms and expectations set before you then you are extremely isolated. This is not only for gay people, but also for women with opinions, as I have discussed on this blog many times.

(In an interesting aside, the Ekklesia website has made the point that Newfrontiers believes that women should submit to their husbands, and as a result would the electorate actually be electing Philippa or her husband. If she has to submit to him and this clashes with the Conservative viewpoint what would be the consequences of this? For more info see the link here. Just an interesting aside I thought!!!!)

I loathe the perspective that homosexuality can be cured, and I fully believe that churches, church leaders and the ex-gay movement should be held to account for the pscyhological damage they have done to countless men and women. Thank goodness for organisations such as Beyond Ex Gay and Courage who seek to support people with finding out how they can balance their faith and their sexuality.

However, I would like to make one disclaimer here. I have known of Philippa and her husband David for many, many years, and I do not believe that they are bad people. I believe that they are extremely devoted, committed Christians who do things according to their beliefs. I believe that their strongly held beliefs are in some cases extremely misguided, but in essence they are good people.

David and Philippa Stroud have made a huge difference to many different homeless and addicted people through the work they have done over the years. I hope and pray that this story does not undo this good work. Equally, I hope and pray, that being held to account for previous (and possibly current) beliefs will cause them to reconsider why they hold these beliefs.

To sum up, I believe that this is a difficult issue and the fact that it has hit national newspapers is a good thing. For a start, we need to see what our politicians are made of – both morally and ethically. We also need to have the issues around faith and sexuality continually raised. This homophobia, sometimes expressed and sometimes hidden, needs to be brought out into the light and challenged. Only then will the church be able to move on, and only then will gay men and women be accepted for the wonderful people they are and will be able to contribute to their local church in a meaningful way.

Why I’d Never Want to be an Elder

When I wrote my blog post on Women and Newfrontiers I had not realised that the article in the magazine was written by the same woman who writes the blog Unfurling Flower.

When she wrote on her blog about her article, I posted a comment with a link to the blog post I had written in response. Whilst the comment appeared for a very short period of time she has now removed it. There was nothing inflammatory on there, but merely a link to my blog. I feel that this is a shame as it is once again (in my mind anyway) reflective of this lack of willingness to discuss any issues. Whilst I am more than happy to link to Emily’s blog, it is such a shame that she feels unable to extend the courtesy to those who read her blog but might have a differing viewpoint.

Maybe I should write an article entitled ‘Why I’d Never Want to be an Elder’. My first point would be that I never want to be an elder in a Newfrontiers church, not because I am a woman, but because I believe that open and honest communication and discussion is crucial to developing individuals and promoting healthy Christian adults. Anything less means having people who are followers who have no idea who or what they are following and why they are doing so. Not wanting to be an elder has nothing to do with my gender, but my passion for honesty.

Women and Newfrontiers….. again!!!!!

ooooooo!!! For the first time in ages I have read an article which has really wound me up. Unusually (hah!!!) it is is about women and Newfrontiers and it is called Why I Never Want to be an Elder by Emily Woods. I was pointed in its general direction by Dave.

She basically goes through and defends the reason that she does not want to be an elder, as a result of this lack of desire to be an elder she seems to extrapolate out some theology and suggests that having men leading churches is the only way for the church to reflect Godly leadership. Her points are as follow…

1. Order is a God thing

She uses the submission of the Son to the Father as an example of this, and the fact that male headship was a fact during the OT and NT. Of course the fact that these were cultural positions doesn’t come into it.

2. It’s for my protection and freedom

“So for me, it is not a demeaning thing but a gracious act of God to appoint men with greater responsibility and to use their strength to protect, defend and honour ‘weaker vessels’ like myself. And when elders are men it releases me to be a woman – to serve as a woman and not to feel burdened with the roles that men have been charged to fulfil. Just as Elisabeth Elliot famously said, ‘The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman.’”

I think this is the statement that has really irritated me the most. Whilst I do think that very often men and women fulfil different roles, I in no way believe that one gender is weaker than others. We may each have our own failings and issues to deal with, but that is not gender exclusive. As for Elizabeth Elliot. She wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet. This was the women who returned to the Amazon after natives murdered her missionary husband Jim Elliot. She demonstrated that being a woman is not a weakness, but is indeed a strength. The idea that men release women up to be women is nonsense. Women make a choice about who they are and the roles they fulfil. Whether or not they are able to fulfil them is a different issue.

3. The proof is in the fruit

“Whether I agreed with male eldership or not, it would be pretty difficult for me to ignore the fact that God is blessing and expanding the work of Newfrontiers.”

This statement is so open to debate it is untrue. Whilst Newfrontiers may be seeing a growth in their churches (in my opinion, generally by breeding new church members!!) they are also hemorrhaging people. And these aren’t individuals who have sat on the sidelines. They are people who have been active in the church and often leading various ministries. This is not the mark of a church that is healthy and growing. Also, any church that denigrates women and demotes them to sitting at the feet of men is not a church that is healthy.

4. It’s not about me

Absolutely. But it is not about any one individual either – male or female. It is about community and this community is made up of men and women of different skills and experiences. Denying one group or other the opportunity to be fulfilled where they are most gifted means that the community misses out.

It seems to me that not wanting to be an elder is entirely different to believing that this is theologically or ideologically correct. I don’t want to be an elder or a vicar, but I don’t feel that is where my gifts lie. I know women who would be far better church leaders than the men who are in position. They women are often more humble, honest, emotional, intuitive and compassionate. Pastorally they are often better than the men. Having said that, I have also met women leaders who are rubbish at it. I don’t think it should be about the gender of the person, I think it should be about the giftings they have and the ways in which they can best serve the local church with their talents and skills.

Interestingly, it would seem this is a once-a-year-topic as I blogged about it here in July last year… once again following a link from Dave’s blog.

Perspective

86I have just realised that it was three years ago yesterday that I left the Newfrontiers achurch I had been part of for over five years. Back then I felt very damaged and broken, still hurt and tender from the things that had (and had not in some cases) been said. I wondered then how I could move on and whether I would regain any sense of joy that I had previously.

But things change over time. The process has been a learning experience both for me and my family and I am quite sure that if I hadn’t gone through that valley experience then I would be a different person today. I am more tolerant, more cynical (or realistic depending on how you look at it!) and I am much less conservative than I was. The questioning had started a long time before I left, but it hasn’t really stopped. I am still full of questions, but these days I am far more content to live with not having any answers, and just to experience the process, however uncomfortable it might be. Things are good.

I still marvel at the fact that my life looks different now, but I wouldn’t change it. Thank you to all who have shared in this journey… your support, love and friendship certainly makes it all worthwhile :)

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Er... what? Dave Warnock helpfully linked to Becki’s blog which made some commentary on the ‘women’s seminars’ at Together with a Mission, the Newfrontiers Conference. The woman who writes this blog comments that…

“I think that’s what modern feminism teaches, that we can have it all – that by giving women loads of life choices, society liberates them. I actually think the reverse is true. A society that tells women they can do everything forces them to strive to be the best mother, wife, employee, and housewife that she can be, which leaves women stressed and trapped. I think I’d got myself into this mindset.”

What Becki is commenting on above is not feminism… it is putting women into a box that has been created for them by men (NB. please note I am specifically talking about men in these sorts of churches). It is confining and squeezing women to a role that men think is appropriate and suitable for their gender. That is not feminism.

My favourite quote about feminism is by Rebecca West, and it says,

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.”

Dave’s comment on Becki’s musings are,

“In my experience Christian feminist thinking is actually freeing for women and men. It sets us free from stereotypes that may not fit and free from rigid expectations, free to be the people that we are created to be. Free to work out our relationships in ways that are appropriate for our personalities, preferences and abilities.”

The Pieta My experience of Becki’s version of “Newfrontiers feminism” is that I was made to feel inferior. I was made to feel inferior by the fact that I was not married by the age of 21 and I had not popped out a quiver full of children by the time I was 25.

I was made to feel substandard by the fact that I was (and am to this day) a questioning, curious, open-minded WOMAN who was truly passionate about the minorities and the broken-hearted; those for whom the church does not necessarily have an answer. Those who are rejected by the church on the basis of their sexuality, gender and identity of romantic choice of partner.

Instead of freeing women up to be creative and dynamic people these churches squeeze women into a ‘gender-appropriate’ role, limiting them to the expectations of the leadership, and not necessarily releasing them into fulfillment of who God has called them to be.

The reality is that many of the women I read about in the bible were not limited by their gender; they were truly counter-cultural. I think of people like Queen Esther, Rahab, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Ruth, Deborah, Lydia, the woman at the well and Abigail. I could go on, but these were all women who shaped biblical history, who in one way or the other made choices that would mark them down as women of great faith.

I don’t see a God who limited his future into one shaped like a man, only choosing men to do his works. Instead I see a God who truly delighted in the women in the Bible… who saw them and their destinies before the world began and, I believe, actively made choices to choose women to fulfill his story. So, it is this God that I choose to lay my hope in.

Newfrontiers and women

This week Newfrontiers is hosting their Leadership Conference in Brighton entitled “Together on a Mission”. They have a variety of different speakers including a load of Newfrontiers leaders, but also they have Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Adrian Warnock is blogging live from the event and summarising some of the main speakers and their messages. Yesterday he blogged about Mark Driscoll’s talk entitled Missional Movements. Whilst I have no problem with quite a lot of what was said (or what was reported by Adrian at least) there is one things that really stood out for me in this blog entry. It is this statement…

“Young men, you need to step up…One prayer is for a bunch of 20 year old guys with hope who will plant churches and preach the gospel with hope. Be looking at all times for men in their 20′s. They will be arrogant, foolish, impetuous, critical, disorganized, and they will be perfect for the task God has for them!”

Now, in many ways I have no problem with this sentiment. I agree that the church needs younger leaders and fresh eyes to interpret and move movements and organisations forward. What I really object to however is this focus on men all the time. In my experience of being in several Newfrontiers churches this is one of the things that is focused on all the time. Men, men, men! Women barely got a look in and certainly for me being a part of one of these churches I always felt that the only way to be validated in any sort of ministry was through marriage . Then you would be freed up and supported in ministry.

This is all very well and good if you happen to be married, but there were plenty of young women who were passionate about God and really desired to serve him and the local church, and yet they were unable to be innovative, forward looking and creative in the ways they chose to serve God because of the barrier of their gender.

As a young(ish) single woman with no potential love interest on the horizon where does that leave me? Does it mean that I have to sit around waiting and searching for Mr. Right, or do I get on with living the life that I currently have and serving God in the places he has called me to? For me, this focus on men and Newfrontiers’ denegration of women was one of the reasons I chose to leave. Whilst Newfrontiers may be critical of the Anglican movement, I have found this to be a more freeing environment as a single woman, something which has come as a complete surprise for me. It seems to me that whereas Newfrontiers churches view the ‘established church’ as being stuck in their ways, it seems to me that often they can be more forward-thinking than they are given credit for.

RC Part 33 – A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson

I have just finished reading A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson . The book was basically his doctoral thesis and is about church leavers, their journies and how they have responded over time, both to the church, but also with pursuing (or not as the case may be) a relationship with God.

I first read this not long after I had left the church, about three years or so ago. It was a really tough book for me to read as so much of the content expressed my own sorrow and pain of leaving a church that I felt closely tied to. At the time the book also saddened me deeply as it it was expressing a degree of hope that I did not feel that I had.

So, a few years down the line I decided to re-read it and see if my feelings about it had changed. Jamieson believes that there are four different types of church-leavers; The Disillusioned Followers, Reflective Exiles, Transitional Explorers and Integrated Wayfinders. Whereas before I definitely fitted into the first category, it seems to me that I have progressed along my journey and I seem to fit more comfortably in the Integrated Wayfinders category. Of this group he says “Where Transitional Explorers are in the process of reconstructing their faith and developing an emerging self-ownership, the integrated faith people have to all intents and purposes completed this faith reconstruction work. While there is a sense in which the integrated faith is also still open and being constantly redefined and adapted, the major faith examination is now complete.”

Another reading of this book has been a bit of a revelation. For a start it completely reaffirmed for me that my decision to leave Newfrontiers was a good and a valid choice. It also reminded me of all the things I was most disillusioned with and it that some of those things were not about fixing the church, but more about fixing me. Jamieson says ”This [a new relationship with God] is the goal of faith for those who find their previous faith dislocating and shattering within them. It is not the journey away from pain, doubt and confession but the journey through struggle to a new appreciation of God at work.”

Maybe this is what it has been about for me. I need to start reframing all those experiences I had back then. Instead of it remembering how negative it was, I need to consider it as a fundamentally a positive experience. It showed me all the things that I didn’t want to be a part of. It deepened my faith and my relationship with God and it brought me into a new and quiet intimacy with a God who delights in me.