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life, power and privilege, religion, women in ministry

Women in Ministry…Again.

Thanks again to PE for giving space on his blog to the women in ministry question. I say question, because particularly within the Evangelical Church, there is no set answer. We are still interpreting, still praying, still working to determine what it is that Scripture could be saying on this issue. As we continue asking the question, I was struck by a particular facet of the conversation that we seldom see in these circles: the power and privilege held by the men addressing the question, and the desire to keep this issue rooted in static discourse and away from the reality of the consequences of the statements made. What do I mean here?

I mean these discourses are not merely academic, but have the power to affect the lives of real human beings. The sisters, the mothers, the daughters and wives of each man responding to whether or not women should be allowed to minister and serve their congregations in positions of leadership. I wonder how many of the respondents know and are in regular conversation with a woman in ministry in a position congruent to their own. My personal hope for this Question is that it could become a genuine and open dialogue, where all parties come to the table willing to hear one another, willing to pray and discern together as equals, and willing to allow the Spirit to mediate the discussion. At least once in the responses, a male respondent stated

I hope what I write next will help some people understand where I am coming from. I hope I will be shown grace and not be judged or have my intentions and thoughts assumed by others. My intention is to correctly understand the biblical qualifications of the offices of elder and deacon. It is not to debate in a cold, uncaring way the rights of women. I wholeheartedly embrace the rights of women. I know plenty of women who are smart and capable. It is insulting for people to falsely assume that I interpret this passage in this way, because I am intimidated by women in leadership roles. I would appreciate not having my thoughts or intentions assumed….In further comments and responses, I hope we can stick with scriptural interpretation and not on personal attacks or assumptions of what others are thinking or grouping all men from generation to generation into one monolithic slab and making all-inclusive generalizations.

I wonder if this man realizes that most women in the Evangelical church are in this position on a daily basis. We hope that we will be taken seriously in discussion of scriptural interpretation and not lumped into “one monolithic slab” while those in power make “all-inclusive generalizations” about our giftings and callings. To make statements about women in ministry and not realize that interpreting scripture on this issue does have implications for half of the human race, to not realize that this issue does group all women into one category because of their gender and without regard for their unique identities, and to not realize that to comment on women in ministry without considering that it is a deeply personal and emotional issue for those you are speaking about is ridiculous.

At the same time, there is a danger involved for women who comment on the question as well. We are seen as emotional–and not rational–if we express our feelings, often asked to speak for all women, and in churches or denominations where this question is not answered, forced to exist as second class citizens. I say this because the men in ministry positions are accepted as leaders. They are accepted as called and gifted, and this calling and giftedness is rarely questioned. Women in these traditions are not seen as having the same calling and giftedness as part of the outpouring of the spirit upon them. It is neither a possibility nor an option that God could use them in this way. If a woman does feel called by God to serve a congregation in a leadership position, under the interpretation of scripture that women are not allowed to lead, she is in error. Women are not equal to men in this interpretation, they will never be created in the image of God in the same manner.

I affirm and agree with the theologies of NT Wright and the ECC on this matter:

http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm

http://www.covchurch.org/ministry/departmental-ministries/women-in-ministry

My own summary and opinion of these views in response to the licensing interview is as follows:

The ECC agrees with the Biblical view that gender-based hierarchies are not biblical: that is Adam’s rule over Eve in Genesis 3:16 is not due to superiority, but instead an “unwanted result of sin…violat[ing] God’s original plan for unity, equality, fellowship, and community.” Through Christ, this original unity is being continually restored through the coming of the kingdom here on earth, putting an end to sinful hierarchies of worldly authority and creating a new order rooted in the concept of servant leadership seen in Matthew 20:25-28. The mission of the Messiah is “healing and reconciliation”, which in Scripture includes the outpouring of God’s Spirit unto all believers, men and women alike. (Joel 2:28-29) Jesus preached both the empowerment of others and the full redemption of all, men and women, as was evidenced in his ministry. According to Paul’s teaching also, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” If we agree that gender based hierarchies have no place in the restored order ushered in by the Messiah, then the issue becomes not one of gender, but one of calling and gifting.

Calling and gifting for the ministry, as with any other spiritual gifting, is granted by God, and not determined by gender, race, age, or human authority. 1 Corinthians 12 illustrates that while there are different gifts, they are all given by the Spirit and “in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Peter admonishes that whatever gifts one possesses, “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Not only are all gifted by the Spirit as the Spirit wills, but all are responsible to be good stewards of the talents they are given. This is not for personal glory or power, but we are called to serve so that God might be glorified. We see through biblical example that women were involved in “all ministry positions and activities including apostle (Romans 16:7); prophetic speaking (Acts 1:14, 2:15-18, 21:9, 1 Corinthians 11:5,10), serving as ministers, leaders, elders or governors (Romans 16:1); coworkers (Philippians 4:2-3; Romans 16:3-5; Acts 18:2, 18-19); and gifted teachers who instructed men (Acts 18:24-26).” With this evidence in hand, I cannot see why any role in the church should not be open to called and gifted women.

Finally, here’s the posting response I made to PE’s blog, and PE’s response to myself and others:

  1. leahklug Says:
    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at @ adey: thanks for your words. I wonder how honest we all are in separating power and privilege from scriptural interpretation (if such a thing were even entirely possible).

    I agree wholeheartedly with both the ECC positions on women in leadership, and NT Wright’s insightful comments. I would argue that the issue of women in ministry is not peripheral; rather it is a justice issue. (Rose, you beat me to it here) Are we really so keen on establishing a gender-based hierarchy reflecting the brokenness of our world, or are we called to dream and put into practice the kingdom reality Jesus teaches of in Matthew 6:9-15? Are we called to overturn the socioeconomically, racially, and gender divided society of our time as Jesus overturned the moneychanger’s tables in the temple? I would say yes. We are called to live out the intended shalom of all creation, that original vision in Genesis when equality before God was the created order.

    Honestly, I have no desire to get into a battle over whose interpretation is smarter than/better than/more correct, and I agree with Ryan Beatty that most often we aren’t reading scripture for ourselves, but are so often looking through lenses shaped by Aquinas, Augustine, and other early church leaders whose cultural context led them (as it did even Martin Luther) to believe women were sub-human, good only for childbearing, and could never approach equality with men. Honestly, we need to exegete the context of our Christianity and learn to separate it from Scripture as we consider what it is Scripture is saying.

    Finally, it always amazes me that so many men weigh in on whether or not women should be allowed in ministry. That you who are able to take for granted that you are called by God find it necessary to determine whether or not another person created in the image of God could possibly be given the same calling strikes me as astonishingly hubristic. That it could be said without exception or discussion that women are never gifted or called to lead a congregation is not a theological view that reflects any sort of care for women, or openness to the outpouring of the Spirit. To those who hold the opposite view, and claim to care for the women in their congregation, or to those who believe there is room for both views, I respectfully disagree. You have absolutely no idea, speaking of men here, what it feels like to have your very identity the subject of continual challenge and discussion. When I speak with someone who does not believe women should be in leadership, I feel that my humanity before God is not recognized, that my calling is invalidated, and that my ministry is seen as ‘less than’. I relate to the exhaustion of Catherine and others, and wonder if there will be a day before the Day of the Lord when we in the Evangelical church won’t have to have this discussion any longer.

  2. eugenecho Says:
    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at @catherine: i understand. you’re a grown woman and you don’t need folks like me to care after you as if you’re a child. it has never been my intent to “care for” women or my female colleagues in ministry in that kind of a way. as others have said, it’s a justice issue. if it’s what i believe God intended and Jesus restored and the Spirit equipped, then I want to be on board with it. i’m not here looking for brownie points.

    @everyone else: i can imagine [just a little bit] how exhausting this and other conversations must be. it is an uphill battle. and i understand why some women choose to remove themselves altogether from such conversations and do what they are called to do.

    but these converations are important because in every context, culture, and generation, we will need to repeat these conversations. doesn’t that suck? when i became a christian, i was also taught the “biblical view” of complementarianism and it was only through these difficult converstions and debates [to be honest] that gave me the courage to see the Scriptures beyond what I was told to believe.

In an upcoming post, I’ll unpack a little of the history behind the discussion, the cultural Christianity that continues to inform and shape our discourse. In the meantime, peace.

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About Me

wife, partner, daughter, and sister. traveler on the journey of faith. rage against the machiner. sometimes pastor.

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