Thursday, December 4, 2008

Women Opposing Women in Ministry

It is very clear there are men who oppose women serving in ministry leadership roles in the church. Some have given serious consideration to the issue and have sincerely concluded it is contrary to the will of God. Others come across as simply being opposed to change of any kind. Others seem to speak out of a visceral fear of upturning a supposed “natural order.” Unfortunately, it is the later group that rises most often to speak at the biennial General Council of Ordained Bishops. We are bombarded with irrational fears of tainted baptismal pools (General Assembly, 1886), fears of the disintegration of the family (every Assembly), and horrible exegesis (especially 2008 and by a long term friend of mine). However, the reality that troubles me more than men wanting to hold on to illegitimate power is the opposition I get from women.

In 1986 the Church of God commemorated its centennial at the General Assembly in Atlanta Georgia. The General Council approved an item granting women full voting rights at the General Assembly. All that was needed was for it to be ratified at the conjoined General Assembly. Between sessions I went to my hotel room. In the elevator was a family of three with whom I was not acquainted: father, mother, and adolescent son. They had clearly met in the lobby as the mother and son were laden with shopping bags. We road upward and I listened.

“They want to let women vote at the General Assembly. Betty Sue, you don’t want to vote at the Assembly, do you?”

“Why no; that’s silly. I wouldn’t want to vote any more than I think Joe Junior should be able to vote.”

Marveling at the precise timing, I stepped off the elevator on my floor, turned, looked at Betty Sue and as the doors began to close stated, “That is the problem, Joe Junior can vote and you can’t.” [In 1986 all male members without reference to age were allowed to vote at the Assembly. That has been amended to include men or women 16 years of age or older. I don't recall the actual names; the wording is pretty accurate.]

In the fall of that year I was appointed interim pastor at the Westmore Church of God where I was serving as Minister of Christian Education. At the time of intercessory prayer during each service I would always conclude the requests with “And let us pray for our next pastor whoever he or she may be.”

During the few months of this ritual not one man challenged me on my inclusive request. On the other hand at least six or eight women registered complaints. One, who continues to be a friend, stopped by my office and gave me a royal tongue lashing.

“I want you to know I don’t appreciate you trying to force a woman pastor on us. I don’t mind women preaching, but I don’t want one for a pastor. They just don’t represent God to me.”

I of course let her know (1) I knew there was no possibility the Overseer would appoint a woman to such a prominent church, (2) I was fully aware I had no influence on who would be appointed, and (3) my objective was to simply remind the congregation, especially the younger women, that in the Church of God pastoral ministry was theoretically open to women. It was the future I was trying to affect.

In my ministry I have had significantly more opposition to this cause from women than from men. I have many theories as to why women would oppose women in ministry: the influence of Evangelicalism, the influence of their culture, internalization of oppression, fear of having to change, etc.

I believe this group of women should be our first target group for change. Yes, we will need a majority vote of the men comprising the General Council but I believe the true battle is with the opposing women of the church. The question for me is how can we convince them it would be good, and pleasing to God to liberate all women to serve in the ministry offices of the church?

I suspect there exists a huge emotional and psychological barrier between them and those of us who desire change. We need to find common ground on which to discuss our fears, hopes and dreams. We must then come together around the Scriptures to discern the voice of God in this matter. I am open to suggestions on how to start the conversation.

2 comments:

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

First,

Let me say how much I admire you, because you are willing to address the "800-lb gorilla in the room"--and NO, I'm not calling any person (he OR she) an "800-lb gorilla).
Yes, these sisters belong in ministry, and should be able to have the "freedom of ministry" that every man has....but some of them don't realize it. Some simply don't want that responsibility--due to the fact that far too many of them have observed the "stuff" that causes a bad taste in one's mouth, if observed too closely.

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

There may not be a "prophet in Israel..." but there is CERTAINLY one in Cleveland....you are that prophet!