Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cracking the Stained-Glass Ceiling

Whether they come from theologically liberal denominations or conservative ones, black churches or white, women in the clergy still bump against what many call the stained-glass ceiling — longstanding limits, preferences and prejudices within their denominations that keep them from leading bigger congregations and having the opportunity to shape the faith of more people.

Women pastors are complaining. According to a NY Time article, their upward rise is being impeded by a glass-stained ceiling. “When a senior pastor is consulted about whom he would like to succeed him, there aren’t any women on those lists,” the [unidentified] minister said. “The good-old-boy network starts there.”

Some key points in the article are:

1. The authority of a pastor is defined as and measured by the ability to govern.

2. Success is measured by the size of a congregation.

3. Pewsitters are still uncertain about whether women should be pastors.

What does this mean?

The authority of a pastor is defined as and measured by the ability to govern.

The ability
to do something is not the same as having the authority to do it. Women have been being ordained since the 19th Century. In 1970 this practice became vogue and wide scale. From out of this practice a theological discipline grew and received a name, Feminist Theology. And yet, not one apologia has been written for the ordination of women. Why? It can’t be done. There is no scriptural basis for it. This is not to say that women may not speak the Good News to men. It was women who first proclaimed the risen Lord to men on Easter morning. However, despite artful attempts to interpret 1Ti 2:12 to their feminist liking, Paul’s bare words based on against the practice remain. Invariably Bereans reveal themselves, and must be outfoxed by feminists.

One small but important step male pastors can take, these experts said, is to get congregations to hear women preach. . . “I speak differently than a man does,” Ms. Escobedo-Frank said. “To hear the fullness of God’s voice, you need to hear both men and women.”

Ah . . . so that’s it! Accordingly, the Scriptures are merely dead letters, sitting as printed words on a page. To come alive, they must be spoken, given living voice. Until that happens, the Bible is merely a book, just as any other piece of literature. That God presents Himself as male in the Scriptures is of no merit. What is important, they say, is that the book be re-cast so that the female voice can be listened to.

What is being promoted is the feminization of God. Feminizing Scripture means feminizing God; that is, reconstructing Scripture to reflect women’s experience in order to re-create God’s character. Different voices have the same visions, it has been said. Experience has proven otherwise with the newest incantations for the Trinity.

Success is measured by the size of a congregation.

If this were true, then Pastor Jesus then was the greatest failure of all. He lost 5,000 followers after one sermon (John 6). He was just a little too tough to swallow, and so the crowds walked out on Him.

If Jesus had said that His Body and Blood were given in gold and silver, PSPs and the latest video games, we’d have no shortage of the demand for every-Sunday Communion, and the pews would be cracking-down full every Sunday. But He didn’t, so we don’t.

Jesus comes to us impossibly. He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35) The Word of Life comes spoken by an ordinary man, and in bread, water, and wine. The crowds in His time didn’t believe Him when He spoke of it; the crowds now don’t fill the pews demanding more of it. So even though Christ gave Baptism to wash His Bride and make her His own; even though He gave His very Body and Blood to His church in order to feed and sustain her; and, even though He said that His own were to be taught to observe/guard all that He taught, still the point is missed by too many that if He’s doing the giving, coming from His Body and Blood, and He is the very Word of God from the beginning to whom all authority has been given, then it is He who is effecting all that happens by way of growth in the church. The authority for growth in the church lies in the efficacy of the word itself, and the efficacy of the word is Christ, the Word. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

That’s authority! And it’s the sort of authority we simply don’t understand, and often don’t take sitting down. We want to count numbers and see numbers counted. We like our stewardship programs, with their fancy slogans, goals and achieved outcomes. We like our busyness, like a bunch of swarming bees.

Now, it is a mistake to lump all things that look similar into one pile and toss a label on top of it. My students often do that with pattern blocks. Hexagons and octagons look very similar, and help us all if a septagon gets tossed into the lot! We can do that here with feminism. Much of what goes on where feminism is active – such as this attention to numbers – occurs in other places, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that feminism is at fault there. What it means is that feminism, because it is a religion of the Old Adam, shares symptoms with so many other “Adamist” religions. These are religions that rely more on what the Old Adam has to say of God and on what the Old Adam has to bring to God as a bargaining chip for his own redemption than on what God says of Himself or of what God says to the Old Adam in Christ. Counting numbers is one of these symptoms. What is similar is the misbegotten notion that numbers themselves are a mark of a healthy church or a good pastor at all. What is different is the female pastors’ complaint that it is a lack of promotions to congregations of size which demonstrates the prejudice against their sex. That's what makes this feminist. Oh, deary me. Kindly refer to the prior statement regarding numbers and misbegotten notions. Then go on to the next section.

Pewsitters are still uncertain about whether women should be pastors, i.e., given authority.

At a large church where she was an associate pastor, a colleague told her that when she was in the pulpit, he could not focus on what she was saying because she is a woman. A man in the congregation covered his eyes whenever she preached.

He can see the logical fallacy, why does he still listen to it? Because, God bless the man, he is still so hungry for the word of God that he would even follow Balaam’s ass to the barnyard hoping to still hear it, that's why! What a dear soul he is.

People in the pews often do not accept women in the pulpit, clergy members said. “It’s still difficult for many in this culture to see women as figures of religious authority,” said the Rev. Cynthia M. Campbell, president of McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago.

If the order of creation has been overcome (as the argument based on Gal 3:28-29 goes), then there are now no boundaries between any relationship on earth. Indeed this is now the argument many Feminist Theologians and liberal philosophers (such as Peter Singer) promote - an d it is the logical conclusion of it. Androcentrism says that man is the crown of creation, even over lesser beings such as animals and even plants. (Pity, that!) Some Feminist Theologians will argue that androcentrism should be abolished. Peter Singer argues that human life is no more sacred than that of a chicken’s at the same stage of gestation, so if abortion is immoral, so is killing chickens even for food. Based on this absurdity I place this proposition before the readers: If Christ’s authority establishing the Office of the Holy Ministry is not what is necessary for consideration in who is to be ordained into that Office, then even a well-trained monkey would suffice for the job.

Many Protestant clergy, it must be remembered, are assigned to their congregations. So when a pastor is repeatedly placed as an assistant in small, struggling churches rather than “promoted” to large, growing congregations, she might question if she is incompetent. This is how Ms. Puckett of Atlanta has viewed her career and cycle of assignments. For the moment we can leave off the theological questions whether she is right in her assessment. The theology of women’s ordination is, after all, a functional view of the Office. Therefore, when Puckett lists competency as a qualification for the job she seeks, and yet she is a woman, she is correct. She is as competent for the job she seeks as anyone, even a well-trained monkey.

After all, parishioners can go home and read the Bible for that little slice of “me-n-Jesus,” and absolution – as is all too often found – can continue to be received silently in the mind of the beholder. So all we need is someone who can dole out little bits of the “Jesus presence” at the comers to the rail, and he’d best be someone who is mum to what they believe, and blind to what they do. A well-trained monkey would certainly do just fine. The worship committee can handle the services, the finance committee the dough, etc. Enough fun.

Or was Jesus just funnin’ when He said to keep to everything He taught and that His disciples were those who remained in His word?

Now that ought to be a cure for getting over one's self. If even a monkey could do the job, then what's to complain about when the promotion doesn't come through?

So if there must be something going on here that is qualitatively different between animals and humans and if that difference was established at creation, then the same differences and distinctions established at creation by the God who ordered what He created still apply. That difference is vocation. And vocation is incarnate. By that I mean that living human beings are not physically and spiritually dysfunctional sexual beings who are born physically with the general condition of humanity but then have to be taught spiritually to be either male or female. Sexual distinction is creation by design. The gift of sexuality is given at conception. Gift given, gift received. So when these women complain about the numbers their own sex really is smacking them in their faces. And because the gift given was not received as gift, but as a burden to be borne, sexuality has become an issue of authority, and the Office itself is wrapped up in the politics of sexual agenda and fair marketing. That’s authority wrapped in the Law.

“It’s a combination of age-old customs and democratic myopia: that in the marketplace of ideas and values, men matter most and that by definition, women have to take a back seat,” said Dr. Alton B. Pollard III, director of black church studies and associate professor of religion and culture at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Authority wrapped in Jesus is Gospel. It is water that is a Baptism because Jesus says so, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It saves now (1Pe 3:21). It is scraps of bread and wine too tiny to satisfy hunger and thirst, yet enough for eternity. “Take eat, this is My Body… My Blood…” It is the gates of heaven flung open, against which the tides of hell cannot prevail. “I, by virtue of my Office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you your sins…”

No numbers can measure this authority. We confess in the Third Article of the Creed that it is the Holy Ghost who calls, gathers, and enlightens the church to Christ through His chosen means. That still brings us all right smack dab back to doing it all His way, doesn’t it? Not Law at all. Just Gospel on top of Gospel no matter how you stack it.

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