Who’s in Charge of us?

by Tara Livesay on April 28, 2017

A couple of days ago Christianity Today published and article titled “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?”  The subtitle was, “The age of the Internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.”

As a result of changes in traditions and culture, partially born of the Internet, the article posed several questions.

It asked, “Where do bloggers and speakers derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?”

I found it fascinating, and a bit horrifying at the same time.  Because many of us that write at A Life Overseas are women, I wondered if we realize a crisis of authority has been birthed?

(Full disclosure: Attempting to limit information to certain sources and/or to claim that only a select few have the authority to speak feels cult-like to me as a result of my life experiences. I cannot be cool with this article and perhaps my bias needs to be confessed early and often.)

I encourage you to go read it in its entirety and decide for yourself.

In response to the article, a large conversation happened on Twitter, and perhaps elsewhere.  There were those that said, “YES. YES! It is not okay that these women with large platforms and no theology degree are allowed to freely speak about their Jesus without fact checking with some approved leader (maybe even a dude) person!”

There were others that said, “You are totally freakin nuts. Of course women (and men by default) without degrees in theology and without experience in formal pastoral roles can and SHOULD share what is happening in their faith walk and what they are learning as they seek to grow and become more like Christ.”

The article asked:

Where do bloggers and speakers derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

In the conversations that came out of this first in a series of posts that CT plans to publish, Rachel Held Evans tweeted, “In the information age, the trick isn’t controlling information; it’s teaching people to be discerning in how they digest that information.”

One defender of the article said, we would not go to a Physician that had not been trained, why are we reading and following, or giving a platform to, (female) Christian leaders that have not received all the credentials and stamps of approval and such?

I won’t pretend here that I am neutral in this situation.  The article made me angry.  If I get curious about what makes me angry I think it is the idea that some feel it is necessary to allow certain people to be the gatekeepers to faith and expressions of faith in Jesus.

If I get even more curious my anger might be intertwined with my uncomfortable position and title as “missionary”  (not a title I give/gave myself, by the way), when in fact I did not get a diploma or credentialing that says I have approval or the right to serve or share love (Jesus love) in another country.

Where do I derive my authority?

If the CT article holds water, the question for us then is, Where do “missionaries” (me, maybe you, in this case) or health-care workers or any other “development” folks (me,maybe you, in this case) derive their authority to speak and teach and work and share their faith – via evangelism OR any other avenue of service? And who holds them accountable for their work? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders and workers abroad? What interpretive body and tradition do these missionaries speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we decide whom to trust as a “Christian missionary”?

The last words of the CT article state “…we have to ensure that all Christian leaders—male and female alike—have oversight and accountability that matches the weight of their authority and influence.”

What do you think?  Assuming we are speaking specifically of the weight of the influence you have as a “missionary” or “aide-worker” abroad, what do you think about your own oversight and accountability? What do you think about what you see happening around you?

In the context you work it is very likely you have seen some pretty bad train-wrecks. If you are anything like my husband and I, you have stood by and witnessed much damage done by people of faith that arrived to your particular place of residence/work without any formal training or preparedness for the work. It is likely you’ve seen harm done under the umbrella of Christian mission.  (On the flip side – some of the most lovely and redemptive work around is often being done by folks that lack all the fancy training and all the letters behind their names.  What then?)

Should there be better oversight and accountability?  

What is our responsibility?  

What do you think about the article?

What do you think about it as it applies to those of us doing “missions” abroad?

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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.

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