Saturday, November 20, 2004

More on Women in Ministry

I was having an interesting chat with my friend Andrew earlier, aka my favorite theologian, and he was rather enthralled with my previous (and I thought completely benign) post concerning the 30th anniversary of women in ministry in the ECUSA. Specifically he found it interesting that someone like myself, a fairly conservative, dare I say old school, Anglican (yes, we still exist in this country, contrary to whatever notions you get from listening to anything coming out of 815) would have no problem with ordained women in ministry.

I felt like I needed to expound upon this a bit. I am sort of a strange critter theologically. In actuality I try to be fairly moderate, I am certainly not a fundamentalist by any means or I could not function in the ECUSA, or more precisely I'd be run out of town on an (altar)rail. But I would be lying if I told you I did not have conservative leanings. (This is all on the theological level, I do not discuss politics on my blog.) But on the same bent, I have quite a Calvinist streak that rears its head from time to time (to time). I guess, in essense, as my classmates like to tell me, I'm a leftover Puritan who never left the Church of England tradition or as I like to think of it, John Calvin: the gift that keeps on giving.

To illustrate my peculiar Ango-Calvinism (Kyle, I want your John Calvin shirt), let me give an example. One of the big theological paradigms prevalent in the Anglican tradition is Richard Hooker's three legged stool dichotomy. The three legged stool of Anglicanism is (allegedly)scripture, tradition, and reason. Of course, this completely rankles my tendency toward good protestant Sola Scriptura notions. To think that biased reason and convuluted tradition are somehow equal in metaphysical essence and theological import to God's Holy Writ is simply laughable in my opinion.

That having been said, I do not think that tradition and reason are not important aspects of being an adult Christian. They are very important. But, tradition and reason are the lenses through which we look at scripture. But in my defense, I am not alone in cursing Richard Hooker and his stupid theological barstool. A professor (to tie this back into my original thesis of women in ministry, the professor is an ordained woman albeit originally ordained in the Methodist church) here at the Seabury Western Theological Penitentiary agrees with me. She analyzes the analogy in this way: tradition and reason are your water skies, and scripture is the rope from the boat pulling you along, your lifeline if you will. Amen, Sister!

I seem to be chasing white rabbits here, but my point is this: though I am solidly grounded the traditional elements of the catholic faith (specifically sacramental theology, i.e. the traditional 7 sacraments, and the incarnational aspect of grace and Christ which is incredibly Anglican) I can at the same time have my Puritanical reformed bent and still call myself a conservative with integrity (please, sisters and brothers, do not get this confused with IntegrityUSA). The title (or label or mindset) of Conservative theology does not necessary mean you have to be a bible thumping fundamentalist nor a, what I call a hook, line, and sinker, Roman Catholic worshiping at the altar of papal infallability. Conservative theology is not a monolith unto itself; it is not a "you must believe it all or your are some sort of liberal revisionist" schtick. (I would quote a Jim Baumgardner-ism here, but it would be somewhat off color. You Carson Newman folks will know who he is and to what I am referring.)

For sake of this blog, I looked up the word conservative in the dictionary, and it was defined as, "moderate or cautious, favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change." If my year in law school taught me anything, it was to clearly and carefully define words. Note the stresse here folks on the words moderate, cautious, and tending to. Conservatives tend to get smeared by non-conservatives (not always without reason) as reactionaries or stick in the mud obstructionists. While conservative theological thought can degenerate into that, it is important to note that reactionaries and obstructionists are not synonymous. You can be a conservative and not be either of those things! I would, in fact, go so far as to argue that when one gravitates into obstructionism or reactionism, you are no longer under the theological umbrella of Conservative but have become a horse of a different color. But, that's neither here nor there...

I have said all this because it really struck me as interesting that Andrew would notice my nonchalant comment about ordained ministry of women as eye catching. I suppose coming from the lens of his proud Southern Baptist heritage (hey, you keep right on stickin' it to episcopacy! I wish sometimes I could get away with it), he knows a lot more women who have to battle this. I mean, the mindset that just because you are a woman in ministry it means you are a flaming liberal "theologist," i.e. lacking in substance or just "out there."

Getting back to the definition of being conservative and the use of tradition and reason as mature Christians, I have never seen, personally, how women in ministry contradicts either scripture, tradition, or reason (the barstool again...I hate it but I can't escape it). I think there is basis in scripture to warrant women in ministry.

Deborah, for instance was a judge under the pre-monarchical law! I mean, talk about having to battle good ole boy patriarchy at its finest. And as a sidebar, its interesting that Deborah was the only judge who actually "judged" in our modern judicial sense of the word; I take this as a perfect example of how women bring something to ministry that men usually if ever bring to the table. All the other judges were complete warlords or generals or "strongmen" if you will.

Even with Paul in the new testament in the oft quoted 2 Timothy epistle where (though most modern scholars believe was not written by Paul, or at least only contains much earlier fragments of Paul, and the letter itself was in fact a reaction against the early form of Gnosticism to get the church back on stable doctrine and not Gnostic "secret knowledge") women are exhorted to be silent, etc., but in the previous chapter they are allowed to be deacon, which was at the very least a teaching position and it is not unwarranted that the phrase could have ministerial overtones. The letter itself is inconsistent as to the role of women. Combine this all with the unbelieveable manner in which Christ treated women, and also in light of "there is neither male nor female (in the church): for you are all one (type of being --- born of God) in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). I see no reason why from scripture, women cannot be ministers.

Likewise, from a historical standpoint, there have always been ministries for women, even in the early church. The church office of virgins and widows allowed for ministries in return for some monetary or other support from the church. Granted this smacks of partriarchy as men did not know what to do ethically with virgins and widows in light of the Roman ideal of public honor, but nonetheless, they were ministries. Even into the 5th Century under Celtic Christianisy from Iona, women in Ireland held equal legal status with men and had many ministries which today we would only ascribe to the "ordained." From a reason lens also, the establishment of God's kingdom, why would God limit his options of reaching the lost on account of plumbing? That to me makes no sense whatsoever, especially in light of Galatians 3:28 and also the shortage of clergy in mainstream denominations.

I could go on and on about this one, folks, but I come back to my premise that conservatives do not automatically have to pooh-pooh the idea of women's ministry. I think women bring unique gifts to ministry, something they should not be ashamed of. Granted, some people just have to have their "preacherman" and there is no way around it, unfortunately. but, I trust my point is clear. I am sure I will have to elaborate much more on this at a later date, but its Saturday night and I have other things I need to be doing. That and the fact I am about to go cross-eyed as I have written an obscene amout of stuff today (well over 3500 words by my calculations). Blessings...

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Yeah, pretty obscene verbiage.

You know, it matters how you define "ministry," too.

The idea of women in ministry or not is a silly idea. What kills me is that folks who have a minimal or even non-existant theology of ordination throw fits about it.