I was reading an interview with Kathy Escobar and Karl Wheeler the other day. They are the copastors of a church called the Refuge. The interview centered on the fact that Escobar and Wheeler are of the opposite sex, married to other people, and yet pastor a church together. Wheeler and Escobar are delighted to demonstrate that men and women can work together as pastors and that they each value one another's giftings in their pastoral roles.
One thing that struck me, however, was the discussion about the feelings of their spouses (in regard to Escobar and Wheeler working so closely together). The pair explained they made a rule that they would never "meet alone. For us, it just makes sense to always protect ourselves and each other, and ensure that no one can be suspicious. Just as importantly, it actually helps us live out our dream of always working in teams.
I understand that this team is in a unique situations, have unique spousal relationships and they are doing what works for them. They may simply have different personal comfort levels than I have. And while I am respectful and thankful for the unity they are bringing through their copastoring roles, I am interested in whether a rule such as theirs will set the tone for other emerging/mixed-gender pastoral teams. And if that rule should become a standard, what message would it send?
Let me first say I agree that there is strength in numbers on pastoral teams. And I am okay with paying a reasonable degree of attention to what "others think," yet when it comes to nonmarital male/female relationships in the church, I think this card has been played too many times, to the effect of keeping women outside the leadership circle. Lewis Smede was quoted in Rodney Clapp's Families at the Crossroads, as saying: "A covenant-keeper does not have to worry much or moralize a great deal about the proprieties of relationships outside of marriage. Within committment there is room for suprises, risks, and adventures. Loyalty is limiting but not constricting." In other words, when you have personal integrity before God and your marital partner, there's not a whole lot you need to be worried about. God sees your heart. He's got your back. He'll give you wisdom when you need it to avoid situations with shady folks.
I know one of my fellow co-pastors, A., would say there's a lot to be worried about, however. He was falsely accused at a former church for having some kind of extramarital romance with a single woman who he'd spent a marginal amount of time with. R. our senior pastor, sat in his office one day in a church down South and was shocked when the female parishioner meeting with him climbed over his desk, trying to get her skirt off in the process. (R. ran for the door.)
So I recognize the dilemma, but at what cost to the church is the articulation of and presence of a formal rule that bans the sexes from meeting with one another? What it costs us, I believe, is unity, and not only unity but the absence of about half the leadership gifting in the body of Christ.
On another note, I've NEVER heard same-sex injunctions of the kind that are issued to hetero meetings. Men should never meet with another man alone. (sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?) And yet why wouldn't it be of equal concern as the hetero meeting? We know that all sorts of extramarital homosexual interactions have occurred in Christian institutions across the board and throughout time. Yet there is no such injunction to "protect" ourselves in this way, in the same way there is no such injuction that Christians "protect" themselves from shoplifting by avoiding shopping, from gluttony by avoiding food, from falsehoods by avoiding speech. None of those solutions appear balanced enough to promote mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention societal well-being.
So the question is why? Why the rule about male/female relationships? I can only see one answer. I am biased, sure. But strongly opinionated that this inequity all stems from misogyny. Trickle-down-from-the-ages misogyny and and belief of our Christian fore-fathers and -thinkers that women are the source of all sexual impurity and evil in the world, able to disarm a man of his moral purity and all decision-making agency. I'm not joking about this. You can look it up. (try Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine to start.)