Through a glass darkly

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)KJV

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Still More On The Journey From Hierarchicalism to Biblical Egalitarianism

One question that has been asked is what has your journey to egalitarianism meant to you in your ministry. The answer is complex because while I am doing more (teaching & leading High School students in Youth Ministry) than I would otherwise do with my hierarchical beliefs still intact, my home church has not yet adopted a leadership model that would provide equal opportunities for women.

Although my denomination (ABCUSA) has ordained women for more than 100 years and encouraged the full partipation of women in church life, my church has not embraced either practice in its 91 year history. The women who served in my church fifty years ago, in some ways, had more meaningful opportunities to serve. The church in those days operated with a dual board system - deacons and trustees, in which very powerful women led as trustees. They were referred to as Mother So-and-so and their word was law to men and women alike. For some reason unknown to me, the church, a few years later, switched to a single board of Deacons overseeing a system of committees which included a committee of Deaconesses. In the 60's and 70's, this Deaconess Committee were derisively called "The Cupcake Committee" due to their main duty of serving food at church socials. During the mid 80's, the Deaconesses began to move away from food service at socials to having more of an emphasis on their "hands on" ministry - counseling those who made decisions, ministering to the bereaved and the shut-in.

With the call of a Senior Pastor who identified himself as an egalitarian, women who desired an expanded role for themselves were hopeful that church polity would change. Unfortunately, a few powerful men expressed forceful opposition to even discussing the Biblical arguments (one particular "gentleman" stood up during a service where the pastor was teaching on the subject and shook his Bible at the pastor) and the will to "rock the boat" was lost. A subsequent attempt (by a committee I was on) to rewrite the Church Constitution and replace the Deacon/Committee structure with a co-ed ministry team, was single handedly crushed by one Deacon who was extremely opposed to women in minstry. When the pastor's wife was hired (with her PhD with Christian Education emphasis) to head the Christian Education Ministry she was called the Director. Eventhough her two predecessors were both called "pastor" and were ordained, neither option was even considered for her.

In the eight years since that pastor moved on and a new pastor came, the church has not made any more progress towards egalitarianism. Although during the 18 month interim, I was, as the Deaconess Chair, added to the Executive Committee (Senior Pastor, Deacon Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary) and allowed to attend Deacon meetings, my successor found such meetings "tiresome" and did not insist on continuing in those additional roles when the new Senior Pastor arrived. He readily admits that this is not "his issue" and would much prefer a Board of Elders making all the decisions anyway, moving away from strong congregational polity. Those on the present Deacon Board who have a strong opinion on the subject all seem to hold to a "traditional view" and would not allow woman as deacons, let alone elders. Their opinions seem ill-informed; most could not themselves point to any Scripture as prohibiting women from certain roles.

A few years ago, I queried one of my friends whose husband is a deacon, how the Board would react to my roommate's receiving her Masters of Divinity degree (which, BTW, she gets next week) knowing that 1) of all the staff, only the Senior Pastor himself would equal her training 2) every previous MDiv at our church has been, within the year after receiving the degree, been recommended to the region's ordination council. My friend's answer was that the Board will do nothing even if asked. She was certain of this because her husband was on the Board and they (she and her husband) did not believe in women pastors or their ordination. Their basis for this belief was their life-long experience in churches that had taught that as well.

Some might inquire as to why I'd remain in a non-egalitarian church. Well, for one reason, the grass isn't greener somewhere else. Many other churches in my area, including ones like mine with national pro-women policies, hold the same/similiar views on women as my own church home. Others have worship practices or doctrines I'd have a hard time adjusting to as a life-long Baptist. Still another reason is that I hold out hope for an eventual changing of the mind in my church; even staunch complementarians such as those my roommate encounters at Talbot, have softened their rhetoric on their position, allowing for the need to hear the voice of both genders. Against that though, is the re-emergence of traditional thought amongst the younger generations, but that's like playing "Bop the Prarie Dog" at Chuck E. Cheese's -you just have to whack it down when the thought pops up (although in the love of Jesus). I guess the final reason, is that for all its warts, my church is my home and God has not moved me anywhere else.

As I've stated before, I'm gonna do what God wants me to do and if He wants me to do something, nothing really can stand in my way. I truly believe that there will be a time when restricting women in ministry will be a ridiculous as restricting people in ministry due to race is now. One hundred years ago that restriction was not yet consigned to the "dust heap of history" as it is now. It's why I can wait.


  • At Wed Dec 07, 08:14:00 AM PST , Blogger Laura said...

    Well said. As you know, this is not my hot issue, but it is an issue. But I, like you, am willing to wait, for God has not moved me from where I am. I said much more over at Laura's Writings.

  • At Wed Dec 07, 10:58:00 PM PST , Blogger jan@theviewfromher said...

    Wow. I admire, respect, and appreciate the way you have stuck with this issue at your church, really wrestling with it in what appears to me to be a completely respectful way. You set a beautiful example of a woman in leadership.


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