It's been a month since I posted "A Lament for Women in Leadership". I don't think I was prepared for the rush of response from readers around the world. And I wasn't prepared for the deluge of emotions I've experienced these past 30-plus days. Anger. Sadness. Grief. Frustration. Brokenness. Fierceness. Humility. Love. Tender-heartedness. Bewilderment. Tenacity. I've experienced it all for myself and half the body of Christ. I've wanted to write an "update" on this lament for a couple of weeks but due process was required to do it well. In the past month, I've had multiple conversations with LifeWay's Director of Communications (Marty King), the publisher, Tyndale House, and the author, Mark Oestreicher. I've literally spent several hours on the phone between them all and engaged in a couple dozen emails. With every point of contact it's required me to step back, process, and pray through the "news" each conversation brought.
So - what happened?
FACT 1. LifeWay Christian Bookstores did not reject the lament. In fact, LifeWay never saw the lament. They hardly even carried or promoted the product (which, in fact, is The Way - a great Bible for 16-30 year olds). Therefore, LifeWay was never “adamant” that it be “removed” (my words).
Therefore, I would like to publicly ask forgiveness from LifeWay for blaming them for this decision to remove the lament from The Way. I privately asked for (and received) forgiveness from LifeWay's Marty King. But it was important to me given the nature of the response to do so publicly. Of course, I did not know of this inaccuracy before I wrote my post. In fact, I was told on two different occasions by Tyndale that it was LifeWay who made this decision. However, the damage was done publicly and I want to do my part to repair that with LifeWay.
LifeWay was also clear they did not wish to harm Tyndale's reputation and didn't want to throw them under the bus in the process.
I invited LifeWay to share a statement here, but their decision was that it wouldn't "be productive" to add anything to this post. I will honor their decision. I did share with them that I thought it would be helpful for people to know what LifeWay stood for regarding the roles of women. They follow the theological guidelines of the Southern Baptist Convention. The end of those guidelines includes a statement about "The Family":
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
Clearly, I strongly disagree with their understanding of Scripture and practical interpretation. I find it so interesting, maybe even hopeful (?!?), that LifeWay's book publisher, B&H Publishing has a woman as their President, Selma Wilson. Recently, Christianity Today shared an interview by Ed Stetzer, one of LifeWay’s vice president, about her role and leadership in the company. How I wish there could be a reconciling of leadership in a major organization and spiritual leadership within the church!
FACT 2. Tyndale independently decided to remove the lament from The Way Bible. In two phone conversations with Tyndale's Senior VP, Doug Knox, he said "Tyndale decided not to publish this piece for their own reasons...because it didn’t fit in the product, not because they don’t believe in women in leadership." He also said that decision was made in part because of their longstanding, working relationship with LifeWay. They know what buyers will purchase and not purchase based on their theological positions and historical buying power, which was one of the factor's for the lament being pulled. Still, Doug told me this week that "It's a mystery to me as to why that occurred” and there are "no records of communications or memory as to what happened with that piece." In fairness, this decision happened nearly 18 months ago and they made loads of publishing decisions every week. In frustration, this doesn't satisfy me and speaks precisely to the lament I wrote.
I believe that while what Tyndale did was terribly disappointing and hurtful, it was also a result of a pattern that LifeWay has shown to publishers in terms of what they'll carry and not carry. In this case, about women in leadership. I asked LifeWay's Marty King about their guidelines for carrying product, and told me "one of the primary factors, not surprisingly, is what our buyers believe our customers want, need and would be well-served by. I'm sure a large part of that determination is what has sold well in the past and what customers are requesting."
I also shared this post with Tyndale's Doug Knox and provided him an opportunity to comment. He responded,
"Tyndale should have accurately and clearly communicated the reason for not including April’s article in The Way Bible in communication to our outside General Editor. The inaccurate Tyndale communication was passed along to April and lead to her original post which is now being corrected. I am grateful for the dialog that has taken place and for the opportunity to make this statement."
What have I learned?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9) There were many moments and days where I wanted to recklessly post, tweet, comment, and stoke this burning fire. Not wise. And yet, the gentleness of the Holy Spirit reminded me that LifeWay and Marty King and Tyndale and Doug Knox and everyone who was a part of this fiasco are children of God. And they are my brothers in Christ. In fact, before a nerve-wracking conversation with Marty King, I googled his name so I could see his picture. I wanted him to become human. Not corporate. I wanted to have an honest, challenging, lively conversation with my brother in Christ, not my "nemesis". Looking at his picture as we talked for 40+ minutes, allowed the conversation to be human, respectful, fair, and loving. Though Marty and I carry radically different beliefs about gender roles and spiritual leadership, he's still my brother.
The Truth will set you free. I was committed to the truth from the very first post. I wanted the truth more than an inflammatory blog post and new twitter followers. I wanted to get to the bottom of this injustice to see what really happened. That's why a follow-up took me 4+ weeks. The freedom I have today is a result of that commitment. Does it still hurt me? Yes. Do I believe what happened was wrong? Yes. But there's freedom in my spirit because I've honored my brothers and discovered the truth.
Reconciliation and redemption are at the heart of the Gospel. From my first conversation to my last with Tyndale and LifeWay, I told them I desired to move the conversation forward. I stated and re-stated my desire for us to be reconciled and clean with one another. It's been messy. It's resulted in miscommunication and really difficult conversations, but I believe the Kingdom is a little more on earth now by how we related to each other and where we are today. The Kingdom is "not yet" fully here but it's a little more here today. I pray for more!
One redemptive aspect of this difficult experience was sharing with my friend, Jeff Caliguire, about my vision and hope for my kids' future. Here's a brief video conversation we had a few weeks ago. I hope you can hear my heart as I talk about my legacy.
Love covers a multitude of sins. I do believe there was sin smattered throughout this process, including my own. But was I kept beckoned back to "the greatest of all is love" (1 Corinthians 13). Whenever humility and love was active in these conversations, Jesus was pleased and we gained a little of our humanity and God-like image back. Love will never fail us.
The internet is a terrible place to have these conversations, yet it's a start. The world-wide web is a crazy place. When relationship and humanity are replaced with pithy 140 character tweets or uncensored blog comments, the Kingdom doesn't advance. Though, this conversation and some of the publishing and book sale shortfalls would not have been addressed. There is great power in what's shared over our social media spaces. I hope as followers of Jesus Christ that we'll do so responsibly, ethically, with integrity, care, and love.
We will have a battle of equality to fight. And it's worth it. Period. We're talking about half of the body of Christ! Let's bring about some change in our commitments, our purchasing power, our words ... and our prayers.
As I close my eyes tonight...
May the conversation about equality move forward. May we remember that although we may staunchly disagree, we are brothers and sisters. May we be peacemakers so we can inherit something greater than a won argument. May we be willing to say "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me? How can I make it right?" when we've wronged someone. May we be emphatically committed to unity and reconciliation, even if it produces more conflict and heartache. May we be people of love who call out the best in each other, regardless of our gender. Amen.