Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hashtag Feminism: A man's experience of women in ministry

Some context: I call the Presbyterian Church (USA) home, we've been ordaining women for longer than we've existed in our current form. I am firmly in favor of women in ministry, and have several female family members who are ordained. I am also (spoilers?) male.

Not too long ago, I was leading worship regularly with a community near where I attended seminary. During my time with that community, I had a number of people come up and express how grateful they were for my leadership. Every worship leader gets this kind of feedback. Here in the South, it's a politeness even if it's not offered in earnest.

What has stuck out to me in the time since is the comments that some people were particularly glad that I was a man. These well-meaning folks expressed that they still struggled with Women in Ministry.

These people were not evil, or stupid, or any of the other ways we can rationalize those who disagree with us. They had lived most of their lives under a narrative that had very strict ideas of what it meant to be a woman or a man. It was a different and difficult thing for them. They were trying to support it, and were supportive of other female leaders, but they fact that I was male meant they didn't have to work as hard to accept me.

But there are people in this world who do vehemently oppose women in ministry. They tell their sisters and daughters that church leadership is no place for a woman because she is somehow less than the men who will occupy that position.

I have a very serious issue with that line. I think it denies the sovereignty of God to call anyone God wants to whatever ministry God chooses. I also have a problem with people who judge one variety of human as being somehow "less" than another. Seems to me like I read somewhere that all fall short of the glory of God, and grace is a free gift bestowed on the undeserving.

Moreover, I've seen women be brilliant, and filled with the Holy Spirit, in their ministry. Too often, though, their vocation is filled with needless struggle.

There's the woman who sought the only form of ministry her faith tradition would recognize, only to be consistently stonewalled and ostracized. She tried to blend her calling with her tradition, and held the two in tension for as long as she could, until she felt called to find a new denominational home.

There's the woman who was the first female minister in each of the communities she has served. Each community has had someone tell her that they didn't believe in women ministers at the beginning of her mission. She is so off-the-charts talented and faithful that she flourished in each place, changing the minds of those who were distrustful of her gender.

There's the woman who avoided her call for much of her life because she had always been taught that only a man could stand in a pulpit. When she finally answered the call God has for her, she fought to have a women's bathroom installed at her seminary that wasn't adjacent to a secretary's office. She now has a doctorate, the seminary has women's bathrooms.

I've heard arguments that men are naturally better preachers; that our deeper voices carry more authority, and our larger lung capacity gives us greater volume. But I've heard women preach so powerfully it can blow the doors off a church, and send the people streaming into the world to do God's will.

I've heard people say that only men were called Apostles by Christ, that for some reason Jesus only chose men to be minister in his name. But the first people to preach the resurrection were the women who went to Christ's tomb and found it empty. They ran back saying "I have seen the LORD!"

I've heard folks cite scripture passages about women being saved through childbirth; that having lots of Christian children is the only valid expression of a woman's faith. But I've also read stories in scripture about childless women who are beloved by God, and who intervene on behalf of God's people in ways that shake empires change nations.

I could not possibly share all the stories I've heard and seen of women being faithful ministers. I've never questioned their validity. But for those who have decades of teachings, and centuries of tradition, holding them to old views, for those who still struggle with Women in Ministry: Keep struggling, because God may be speaking to you through a woman in ministry. I know God has spoken to me in that way.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Sarah! I don't think I can speak about what it's like to be a woman in ministry, but I can offer what I've seen.

  2. We must be on the same wavelength: I posted this yesterday.

    1. Thanks Ross, I saw your post on facebook yesterday and decided it was a good time to upgrade this one from "draft" to "post."

      PS, anyone wanting to look at biblical arguments about women in ministry should read Ross's post. It's top-notch exegetical work!