When I returned home from the Lydia Symposium in September, my husband came to collect me at the airport, and we spent the hour and a half drive home talking through the events of the weekend. That evening, I sent a summary of the weekend to a friend who could not be there and told him that I would struggle to write about the event without talking about my personal history. Since then, I have written and rewritten my summary of the first Lydia Symposium, each time eventually deleting it all and starting again. It has proven extremely difficult to do justice to what was genuinely a significant turning point in my life.
Against the backdrop of the still prominent patriarchal culture within the modern Christian church, considering the growing body of evidence that such a culture potentially empowers the abuse of Christian women, and in light of the many pressing questions facing Christians regarding gender and sexuality, we held our inaugural Lydia Symposium.
This inaugural Symposium featured lectures by Drs. Rebekah Josberger (Multnomah University), Mark Garcia (Greystone Theological Institute), and myself (Sheffield University and the Lydia Center). The subject matter ranges rather widely, perhaps more widely than one might expect from a Center focused as we are on the academic research and discussion of gender, marriage/divorce theory, children, and family. Here you will hear about the nuances of Torah in relation to righteousness, the significance of discourse about divorce in sermons, Matthew’s use of Hosea, the beauty and richness of God’s norms, with questions and suggestions pulled from biblical studies, theology, history, ethics, and linguistics.
The weekend began with Dr. Mark Garcia’s talk on Friday evening entitled Just Joseph: Mary, Marriage, and Matthean Mercy. Mark spoke about righteousness as mercy, the significance of Joseph acting to cover what he believed to be Mary’s shame, his act not to expose her but to take the burden of potential shame on himself.
Mark’s second talk was after lunch on Saturday, entitled, Are Women Safe in the Church? Women, Safety, and the Samaritan. He focused our attention on John 4 and the account of the woman at the well. He discussed the significance of Jacob’s well, the ambiguity regarding why this woman had five husbands (noting the common interpretation that this was due to her own adultery) but the convincing interpretation that she was very likely rejected unrighteously by her various men, and perhaps because she was barren. And then the spread of the Gospel through her, the water of life springing up within and out of her, to the villagers. Her barrenness healed. I found Mark’s work not only thorough and honest to the text but deeply moving. Are women safe in the church? I encourage you to listen to Mark’s assessment.
Dr. Rebekah (Becky) Josberger’s first talk on Saturday was entitled Torah as Protector of the Vulnerable and centered on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Becky began her talk with common mistakes we make when reading Torah. She focused, for example, on problems in assuming that God’s law describes something idyllic, a means for living in ideal circumstances. Instead, she argued, its purpose is to give us guidelines for living in a broken world and to foster a relational knowledge of God. In her words, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, an instance of Torah,
is drawing a picture to shape a paradigm that is to guide broader attitudes and behavior – behavior that reflects Yahweh’s own righteous character to our community and to the watching world.
Becky took us through the biblical text and through similar texts of the period, arguing that rather than a passage about divorce,
The primary issue in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not the divorce, but the abuse that the divorce represents.
Particularly moving was Becky’s reframing of Malachi 2 in light of her convincing scholarship on Deut. 24. Becky took up a common misinterpretation of this passage, “You are offensive because you are divorced” and recast it as, in context, a message of God’s hatred of the mistreatment of the vulnerable.
Becky’s second talk later in the day was a kind of meditation on Torah, again not as a means of deriving “specific, limited, outward behavioral responses,” but rather, Torah as God using story to teach us about Him and how to be like Him.
I delivered my talk entitled The Discourse of Divorce on Saturday morning. I began by situating my corpus of sermons within a broader context, summarizing my philosophy of language, and then delving into the sermons themselves. I discussed evidence for a discourse of rules and evaluation, a discourse of polarization, a discourse of violence, and a discourse of female exclusion.
At the end of the day, in closing the symposium, I reflected on the ways in which the various talks worked together. My work investigated how pastors talk about divorce in the Church and the extent to which it is problematic, even dangerous. Providentially, the message from Mark and Becky was this: Despite the destructive messages you may encounter, they do not represent who you are before God. They do not represent who God is.
Our first symposium was sparsely attended, but this fostered a friendly and communal atmosphere. During breaks, we moved from the main conference room to a smaller upstairs table, where we talked and shared experiences, reflecting on what we had heard and what it meant for each of us.
The talks from our first symposium may be accessed for free here (scroll to the bottom section of the page), and we encourage you to begin with Mark’s “Series Introduction”. Almost all of the lectures are provided in audio form. But one of the lectures, my own, included visuals, so we have provided only this one in video (i.e., audio plus slides) format. I have also provided a personal video introduction to my talk which you will see at the beginning of my lecture.
As noted in the lectures themselves, this audio is being provided free of charge in order to spread the word about the kinds of things Greystone is doing. If you find any of the talks helpful, please feel free to share them with as many as you desire, but please also consider making a donation to Greystone to help cover the considerable costs of holding this event and to help the Center continue its work.
Finally, please note that the talks at our first Lydia Symposium were scholarly, in keeping with our mission. Our aim is to examine important questions facing women in the church in a careful, serious, and thorough manner. If we are to speak with authority, if our resources are to effect change, we must handle with rigour the texts we encounter.
Thank you for listening. We pray you will be encouraged, challenged, and invigorated in service of Christ, His Church, and the world.