In a world in which most religions begin with God the Father or some sort of male image of the divine, and are founded by male figures such as Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, do we undervalue Motherhood or the role of women in faith?
“Do we undervalue the role of women in faith?” Here is, it seems to me, a classic example of a rhetorical question, i.e., one in which the answer is obvious, very much like, “Is it cold in Minnesota
in the winter?”
An enjoyable aspect of my work as a professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary is the opportunity to study the role of women among Jesus’ first followers and how those roles evolved from that time. Often this work enables me to have a “long view” of women in church which allows me to see the progress that has been made.
Right now is not one of those times, however. Right now the struggles women are facing are too deep and wide for me to feel much sense of progress. Right now I am angry at how undervalued women are in church.
I’m not primarily angry at Southern Baptist or PCA or Church of Christ folks and others like them who have taken strong stands against women’s ordination. At least those folks are honest about their views of women.
Instead, I am angry at those in traditions which give lip service to supporting women’s service in church, who will elect women as deacons or elders or Board members, who will affirm women’s call to preach and
pastor congregations, even help pay for their seminary educations. But then they go about their business without noticing how few women actually serve as deacons or elders or pastors. I think it is time to take notice!
I’ll focus on ordained women for the moment. I challenge any
of you to ask United Methodist women clergy where they get appointed to serve.
Ask how many PCUSA churches or Episcopal Churches or CP Churches or Disciples Churches in Memphis have a woman as their pastor. These are denominations that ordain women and claim to support their ministries, so ask the women in their midst how that’s working out for
them. Even the seminary where I teach, which has long affirmed women in ministry, will have fewer women on faculty this fall than at any time in the 19 years I’ve been there. Progress? What progress?
In case any of you wonder if lack of preparation plays a role, I can assure you it does not. Locally at MTS and also across the nation
women make up substantial percentages of seminary student bodies, excel at their studies, and are committed to their formation as ministers. Neither call, gifts for ministry, nor preparedness is the issue. The undervaluing of women in church is the issue.
Frankly, leaders in these denominations ought to be ashamed
at the lack of progress. But they aren’t alone. Girlfriends, I’m looking at us!
Many of us, especially we Southern church women, were taught that if we worked hard, were good team players, and behaved ourselves, then everything would work out right in the end. And that’s what we’ve done. Over and over again. So, I think we need to ask ourselves, how’s that working out for us?
This past week a friend gave me a couple of gifts adorned
with the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make
history.” I wonder if Rose’s gifts are actually a prophetic call. Girlfriends, it just may be time for some misbehaving in church!
Any brothers who want to join the fun are welcome.