From Tragedy to Restorations: “Not it,” Article 7 of 10

“Not it”
Article 7 of 10

By Elizabeth Lane Miller and Helene Fisher,

Gender and Religious Freedom (GRF)

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

“We need just one more volunteer for the 2-year old class this fall…” the church children’s director announced forlornly, failing to hide her desperation.

The 500-strong congregation listened sympathetically, but stoically. “Not it!”

This playground language wasn’t heard out loud, but the result was the same. Not a single volunteer. No one came forward to say, “I’ll take on that inglorious responsibility.”

Why is it so hard to say, “I’ll take care of it”?

Accepting responsibility – especially when there is no obvious status or power associated with it – feels costly. It means making ourselves a little bit more vulnerable, and potentially requires unspecified quantities of our time and energy – invested for the benefit of others.

Even harder for most of us is accepting responsibility for things we’ve already done… but shouldn’t have. It is difficult to own when and where we’ve been selfish or hurtful, to say: “I’m sorry, that was my bad.”

If we’re honest, our reflex to avoid having to say sorry is to quickly shift the responsibility elsewhere. And it works best to choose someone who’s got very little ability to pushback. If I can leave this “lower” person holding the bag, maybe I can protect my status?

Scheme #3 in Restorations IRL  is Rejecting Responsibility. This scheme leads to perhaps the most ancient of relational dysfunctions: blame.

We might almost indulge this dysfunction as a natural human reflex. After all, we’ve been doing it since Adam stood before God in the Garden of Eden and pointed the finger at Eve. “The woman you gave me … .” (Of course, Adam was also blaming God, “The woman you gave me.”)

What happens when this reflex of blame happens today in the toughest of situations for Christians?

According to research on religious repression, one of the most common forms of persecution of men around the globe is economic harassment: job loss, unfair treatment, lower pay for work done, lack of opportunity for advancement. This is especially devious when overlaid with cultural norms which respect men who earn well. Imagine the pastor who has to do a job on the side to pay the bills, but loses his job because he acts with integrity?

How might his seemingly pious church elders respond? “Pastor, we’re so sorry to hear that the Lord has removed his hand of blessing from your life. Is there a secret sin you need to address? Perhaps you ought to step down from your church responsibilities while you take some time to pray and reflect.”

Shocking victim blaming? Indeed. Sounds like Job’s friends. And the impact is to further discourage a godly man, and deprive the church of His gifting. He might even get quite angry at the mistreatment. Who are his brothers to say whether or not he is still worthy of the pastoral position?

We are so sensitive about our Freedom & Limits, the third human identity area named by Restorations IRL. There’s an intrinsic rebellion at the idea that my everyday freedom may be subject to anyone else’s control or oversight. Especially if that oversight is going to put me on the wrong side of … well… being right.

If we are honest, most of humanity wants full freedom and as few limits as possible – at least for ourselves. Consider one of 2023’s blockbuster movies, Barbie. Wasn’t it a bit shocking that every night was girls’ night in Barbie Land? When Ken is hoping for more of Barbie’s time and attention, she reminds him that it is she who sets the limits.

“Oh, but I don’t want you here. […] This is my dream house; it’s Barbie’s dream house. It’s not Ken’s dream house, right? And it’s girls’ night. Every night forever!”  In Barbie’s world, where women have all the freedom, and men all the limits, Barbie is completely blind to the impact on Ken and the other men.

It isn’t until she leaves Barbie Land and experiences the opposite that she begins to understand. In the real world, life no longer revolves around Barbie and she can barely take it in.

Here, Barbie ran smack into the kind of invisible limits Ken had been pushing back on in Barbie Land, but that she hadn’t been able to comprehend. She is shocked by the difference in how she’s perceived; Ken is pleasantly surprised that he can suddenly do no wrong.

In the real, real world, invisible limits aren’t always gender-based; often they are quite different, as the persecuted church pastor experienced. They are whatever societal factors allow us to judge others by a standard which we have humanly established.

Distortion #3 from Restorations IRL is: We become the judge of good limits; adding new limits or rejecting all limits. So often this means adding new limits for others, and rejecting limits for ourselves, so that we can have complete freedom.

Why do we blame? We are trying to avoid consequences, the need for repentance, and, especially, having to change. Consequences, repentance and change all make us feel vulnerable, and so we perceive them as a threat to be countered, rather than an invitation to become more like Jesus.

Yet in Christ, we have simple limits and they rarely fall neatly along societal lines. Jesus never condemns those who are covered by His blood. Freedom and grace in Christ are offered equally to all.

Next week in our series, we will explore Control in Sunday Slipper Dysfunction.

With permission: Throughout this series we will draw upon the church training material available through Elizabeth and Helene are the pioneering co-authors of Specific Religious Persecution reports published between 2018-2023 by Open Doors International’s World Watch Research.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…


Upcoming Events