As I have reflected on the whole of the Women and Worship event and Remind and Renew conference, my chief question regarding ethical discernment shifted from “what is happening?” to “who is this for?” Mindy lifted up the necessary and complex idea of ‘overhearing’ from Lee Butler. It occurred to me that I was one part full participant of each event and one part over-hearer of the events, both vital roles to discover what I could learn in the overlapping contexts. The mixture of the questions and discerning my participant/over-hearer set the context for some of the ethical dilemmas experienced in the conferences. It also opened the door for me to see how people were experiencing the conferences themselves.
The Women and Worship conference was an event organized by women scholars and theological educators for women in leadership in congregations. There was an assumed common experience and common theological framework that rested chiefly on the other-ing of women in church, particularly in worship, and discerning the ways that we can reclaim wholeness of women’s identity as separate and fully integrated into the church.
The opening of the door to men to attend was in one way an opportunity to bring advocates to the table to hear voices. It was an act of gracious hospitality. Hospitality, however much we desire it to be simple, almost never is. In other way, the invitation to men changed the dynamic of the experience in such a significant way, away from what seemed to be the goal. Would something to planned like it again, I believe men should not be invited. While men made only a small number of the attendees, their voices were heard significantly. And that is not just a reflection of how men’s voices carry. With a position of charity, I heard their statements and questions as encouragement of women’s inclusion, of equality, an important voice for the church. Systemically and most likely unintended, it felt like the men in attendance needed to say something to validate and affirm what the women were saying. That need alone, when no one was being threatened as they might be in a congregational setting where equality is not lived out, undermines the basic premise of equality. I don’t need a man to validate my authority unless it is under attack or that person wants to affirm me out of relationship that exists. I don’t need a man to shout for equality at an event by women for women.
When I mentioned this phenomena in our class, Josh spoke up and said he understood his role to be over-hearer. This wasn’t his exact words, but his sentiment. It meant a great deal to me. His clear understanding of who he was in the moment encouraged me to consider that daily. Who is this for? What kind of participant am I, for me, according to the purposes of the situation and what does my voice do when offered? What will my voice do simply by being offered, regardless of what I say?
When do I just need to overhear what is being said?