Tony Jones' Curious Call For Schism

On November 27, 2013 In his post, Maybe Schism Was the Wrong Word, Tony Jones shares his conversation with Sarah Cunningham who "fundamentally disagrees" with Jones' position.

Jones recants of using the word "schism".

Jones and Cunningham obviously disagree over this issue, yet he is fellowshipping and even collaborating with her at upcoming events, which goes against the words and spirit of his original post.

I'm confused.

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Please allow me to weigh in with a Catholic perspective on this discussion. I head the lay pastoral team for my parish west of Montreal, and consider myself an extreme-left-wing Catholic (to the extent that “left” and “right” have any real relevance to definitions of Christian practice…).

While I entirely agree with the motivations behind Tony Jones’s call to “schism,” in practice it’s a non-starter for a practicing Catholic, even a progressive one. I can’t simply choose not be Catholic. There’s too much of Catholicism that is firmly embedded in my Christian doxis and praxis. Catholicism isn’t something I belong to; it’s something I AM.

I suspect that walking away from one’s denomination is equally unpalatable to most progressive Protestants as well. You can’t blithely abandon something that has been so central to your life for so long, even when the perceived errors are egregious (and there’s a LOT in Catholicism that I consider egregious… don’t get me started).

As I’ve had to respond to people who consider themselves “ex-Catholics” or “lapsed Catholics” or simply non-practicing Catholics, the discussions inevitably come around to the Church’s retrograde positions on pretty much everything to do with sex and with the role of women. They can’t understand why I would stick with a church that is so out of touch with modern mores, not to mention my own personal convictions.

However, I believe that one of our greatest conceits as humans is our tendency to expect that for change to meaningful, it must occur within the space of our own lifetimes. Revolutionary movements come about when people decide that incremental change isn’t fast enough for them. They instead provoke rapid transitions for which many if not most are unprepared. Chaos and, not infrequently, bloodshed ensues. Meanwhile, slower change might have arrived at the same outcomes, but without as much trauma. The Catholic Church today is not at all what it was 500 years ago; many today even decry the fact that it appears to be drifting slowly towards protestantism. I don’t think those changes are bad, but neither do I think the slow pace is necessarily bad.

I see my role as that of nudging the Catholic Church gently towards a more genuinely humanistic worldview and practice. I’ve seen significant progress in that direction in my own lifetime, and I’m confident that that movement will continue long after I’m gone. As long as I continue to see that incremental movement, I’m content to stay within my own tradition.

Shaun G. Lynch

I appreciate your comment Sarah. That does clear things up a bit. I’m still unsure what he’s changed his mind about. I ask for clarity and you’ve provided some. I change my mind several times an hour so I get it. We Canadians already celebrated our Thanksgiving in October. Enjoy your holiday!


I agree with klhayes. It is all about who, among the community of believers, has the insight on God’s plan.

The complementarians believe that the bible states God’s plan for what ALL women should do. While not wanting to devalue women, they adopt an apartheid-like “separate but equal” stance. The complementarians then want to build a society that reinforces this sexual appartheid system. The complementarians encourage women to listen to the Holy Spirit but with the caution that the True Holy Spirit only reinforces the bible-given role for women. Any other “whisperings” that women may hear come from themselves and should be ignored. As in race relations, though, apartheid systems usually involve systemic inequities and loss of opportunities for many people, In short, the complementarians believe that God is defined by and constrained by what was written in the bible.

The egalitarians believe that God has the capacity to have different desires for different women – that God may well not view all women as being the same and that God may not want all women to do the same things. The egalitarians believe that women should listen to the Holy Spirit without the filter of what was written in the bible or the expectations of certain segments of society. The egalitarians want to build a society where women are not pigeonholed into only being able to perform certain roles and are free to live out God’s plan for them. In short, the egalitarians by and large believe that God is not defined by and constrained by what was written in the bible.

I write computer software for a living. I could easily replace the complementarian notion of God with a computer program – with nice predictable responses for your various requests (of the oracle). I would not be able to replace the egalitarian notion of God with a computer program.

Jeff P

“Egalilarians are quick to say “us men (complementarians) are misogynists”, but what is the motivation for the women who supposedly wish to “hold back women”?"

Internalized sexism.


Hey David. :) I don’t know if I can lend any clarity (and, also, I can’t speak for Tony), but just in case there’s any confusion I thought I’d add this. In the post we co-created, when Tony said I “fundamentally disagree” with him, he meant I disagreed with him on calling for all his readers to schism. (He was not suggesting I disagreed with women in leadership.)

I believed that there were other valid responses that were still supportive of growth in this area that did NOT require schism. And I asked him to consider that just because breaking fellowship might be the action that made sense to him given his experiences, that people like me might feel there is more we can do through other avenues. Not to mention, it’s rough for those who have complementarian family to be told to break fellowship with them regardless of their own experience or judgment.

In the end, Tony backed down from calling for a wide-sweeping schism. I believe (again, we’d have to ask him), he’d still be happy to advocate for personal schisms. He just demonstrated a willingness to listen and make space for ideas he hadn’t considered. I’d like to give him some credit for investing in the conversation. Because he really did. I pushed him. And even when at times we were both tired of the back and forth, he demonstrated a ton of care and respect in seeing the conversation through over many days. And for being willing to consider other options. I hope, if you can see the merit or humility in making room for other people’s ideas, that you’ll join me in affirming Tony’s freedom to change his mind a little bit here.

Thanks for being part of the conversation and continuing to provoke conversation about faith and culture with your work. Blessings on your week, friend.

Sarah Raymond Cunningham

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