To have this conversation with everyone and anyone makes no sense. If you cannot accept that women are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), or that women are called and sent to share the Gospel (as the women at the tomb were on the first Easter) then please stop reading, for this is not a conversation for you. This discussion is for those who see themselves as progressive, from within parts of the Body of Christ and movements for justice that outwardly approve the leadership of women. This is the “we” in “We Have Made Great Strides & We Are Not There Yet.”
There is a difference between being “allowed” a vote and being listened to. There is a difference between being tolerated in a position, and being valued for the unique contributions to leadership only you bring.
Yet still, hard-won rights should be celebrated. This year the United States marks one hundred years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. We have more women in public office than ever before, but not enough to break the hold of patriarchy on the halls of government on all levels. My church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is celebrating 50 years since opening ordination to women in our predecessor church bodies. The first related milestone occurred earlier this year, 50 years from when the wording was changed on official documents from “man” to “person.” Later this fall we’ll mark 50 years since the first ordination of an actual woman pastor in our church body.
Anniversaries can be both a celebration and a call to get back to work. We celebrate in the midst of tension, proclaiming in the same breath:
We have made great strides, and we are not there yet!
Any opportunity – 100 years, 50, 40, 10 – to appreciate grassroots organizers and to show others there are movements they can join in process, works for me. We have indeed come a long way on equality in leadership, but it is not because anything was “given” to us. The right to be included is always hard-won by those who made great sacrifices. Can we picture ourselves taking a stand as they did? Celebrating the “firsts” is a way of testing that out.
There is no denying that the 100 year milestone for women’s suffrage and 50 year milestone for ordination both count for white women only. My denomination is actually celebrating a 50/40/10 anniversary: 50 years since the first white Lutheran woman was ordained, 40 years since the first African-American Lutheran woman was ordained, and 10 years since the first openly LGBTQ Lutheran woman was ordained. It hasn’t been the same journey for all of us, because of all the intersecting layers of oppression, in addition to all being women.
The stares and even blurted-out questions of “What are you?!” from strangers of different ages when I visit church members in hospitals or nursing homes wearing a clergy collar or dressed normally but observed giving them communion tell me that we are not all there yet. Women have been leaders in the Jesus movement since the beginning, and we have been specifically ordained in many Protestant denominations in this country for half a century. Yet we are clearly not all there yet. There are branches of mainline denominations that still do not ordain women. Certainly this exclusion is more common in Evangelical churches, where complementarianism is official teaching.
But we also have not arrived at equality:
—Until our minds have been renewed and adjusted enough to approach women’s leadership with hopeful questions about what the Holy Spirit might do through a woman’s perspective in the pastoral office, rather than focusing on perceived negatives . . .
—Until women’s voices are heard with authority, not talked over or only heard because a man re-presented the idea as his own . . .
—Until pastor interview committees stop asking only women candidates, “Who will take care of your children when you go to camp/attend retreats/lead worship/do a pastor’s job”. . .
—Until we discipline ourselves to stop referring to “mankind,” pretending that includes all. Until we acknowledge that language shapes us, and infiltrates our unconscious with more power than we can imagine—so we stop referring to God exclusively as Father . . .
. . . We are not there yet, because only some of us are even on this path.
Women bring the leadership the church needs now.
A humorous post made the rounds several years ago: Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained.
Of course, the reason it was so painfully funny was that by turning the tables, the absurdity of the arguments is exposed. How about a positive re-framing?
Top Ten Reasons You Need to Experience the Leadership of a Woman Pastor
10. Women have a depth of experience balancing multiple roles and the differing expectations of each simultaneously.
9. Jesus modeled servant leadership. Who has more practice at this than women? Think about many mothers you know.
8. A large part of ministry is emotional labor. Girls are socialized from a young age in our society to do emotional labor on behalf of those around them. That’s not necessarily a healthy pattern; but women are fully prepared for this part of ministry.
7. Many women have extensive experience navigating relationships between extended family, which is often how churches behave.
6. Remembering is key to pastoral care: remembering death anniversaries, to ask about how recovery is going, to notice the invisible labor of caregiving and stand in solidarity with those whose “work” goes unacknowledged.
5. Absolute rules must give way to the discipline and flexibility of God’s grace. Mothers especially can walk us down this path, adapting our discipline.
4. We tend to interpret Scripture and paint God in the image of those who preach for and teach us. We are missing so many of God’s mothering behaviors and other actions associated with femininity, without preachers to point them out to us.
3. Women have always tended the myriad details in church communities. It is time to pay them for it.
2. Women – perhaps especially mothers – can model a divided attention that reflects God’s attention not just for us, but for the whole world.
1. The Body of Christ, in order to act like Jesus and embody resurrection in this world, must be led by those who have been silenced and ignored.
It is well past time to truly value and seek out the God-given leadership gifts and calling to leadership of women pastors. And to be transformed by them!