Thursday, November 4, 2010

Women and the Calling to be a Pastor

Growing up in a Quaker church was very interesting.  I learned far more about Quaker history than I did about Jesus.  I learned a lot about God, but not as much about Jesus.  In our church, we had a male head pastor and a female assistant pastor.  The Quaker way is that all people in the church are considered ministers.  It's very easy to see that I grew up with a very egalitarian view of women and men. 

I mentioned in my last blog entry that I had only heard the word "submission" once before I married.  I had no understanding of what it meant.  But, shortly after I got married, God put me on a journey to help me understand His desires for me in my marriage. 

Along that journey, I began to consider what submission meant for women in regard to church leadership.  There are two scriptures that specifically state that elders in the church are to be men and that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men.  These scriptures are

Titus 1:6  " An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."

I Timothy 2:12  "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

It was these two scriptures that caused me to pause and consider what I thought of women being pastors and elders.  I was raised that it was okay.   During college, I had several friends who joined the staffs of Evangelical Quaker churches in California.  I had another friend who went to seminary in the Northeast United States to become a pastor.  I didn't know what to think.  Many people say that the passage from I Timothy needs to be put in its cultural context.  Years ago, I didn't know how to respond to that argument.  So, I began to think about it logically.  If a woman became pastor of a church, she became the spiritual leader over her husband.  It put him under her authority.  Ephesians 5:22 ("Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.") made it clear to me that God desires us as wives to submit to our husbands.

In the very last chapter of her book Dancing With The One You Love, Cindy Easley answers several FAQs and the last question is in regard to how the husband/wife relationship plays out in church.  I contacted her for more explanation than what she wrote and I wanted to share a little of what she wrote in her reply.

In Her book, Ms. Easley writes "Women do not seem constrained to teach anything but scripture to men.  That would allow women to teach in all other areas, as well as read Scripture, lead worship or serve in any other capacity as long as she is not exercising authority over men in the congregation..."

In her email to me, she wrote "What I meant by this statement was that a woman is free to teach children or other women.  She is free to give her testimony or tell what God is doing in her life, long as she is not teaching scripture.  i also don't see a prohibition towards reading scripture with men in the congregation, as long as she is not teaching.  Simply reading scripture is not exercising authority over a man.  Consider the idea of having a woman read the part of the Samaritan woman in John 4 while a man read the part of Jesus.  This simple reading could be profound in a listeners understanding of the conversation, but is not teaching.  

I have seen women cause great distress in a congregation fighting over the title of elder or pastor.  These were women who didn't necessarily want the title themselves, but felt the elders were chauvinists for not allowing women in these areas of leadership.  But women can lead in multiple areas, save 2 roles:  elder and pastor."  Quoted with Cindy Easley's permission

Last year, I asked the pastor of a local church over for coffee.  I wanted to explain to her why we had never visited her church and had not accepted her invtations, though we knew several families who attend there.  I also wanted to ask her why she believes it is okay for women to be pastors.  Basically, her heart had been very burned by a relationship she was in during college and consequently feels very aversive to submission.  That relationship convinced her that submission today is really a matter of mutual submission, not one of wife to the husband.  She did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  Rather, she believed in living according to the passages from the Word that apply to her life today.  She felt that she could equally well fill the role of pastor that a man can, if not better in some ways.  Perhaps, that is the pride that Ms. Easley was speaking of.  She was quite surprised that I wanted to sit down and talk to her about this and did not seem at ease discussing it. 

I have had other friends who have also become pastors and they have been very humble women, who I have not sensed pride or fear in as their motivation.  I have come to the conclusion that I can pray for the women I know who are pastors and elders, but that I cannot expect them to live by my convictions.  Whenever this issue comes up, my heart begins to hurt.

I heard recently from a friend about a big mega church that recently changed its beliefs about marriage roles from being complimentarian to egalitarian.  I am concerned for the church and the women attending it.  But, I'm not really sure what to do or think beyond praying for the church and the people involved in that church.  I am concerned out of love and sympathy because that's the perspective I used to have and I see in myself that the roots of my egalitarian beliefs were not from a place of submission to God and His Word, but rather from pride and a sense of justice.  I was raised that I was just as good as a man and in truth I am not less of a person than a man, but I am different than a man.  God has equipped me differently to handle a different load than my husband.

I know this is not an issue of salvation, but it is an issue that I believe affects our marriages and how we raise our children.  Sara Groves song "Generations" speaks to me of the importance of such things.

One last thought--several years ago, in his book The Mind has Mountains, Paul McHugh described a medical procedure that is now very common.  His observation (my paraphrase) was basically that just because something can be done doesn't mean that it should be done.

Perhaps that applies to women in church leadership as well-- just because women are capable of being pastors and elders doesn't mean that we are supposed to be pastors and elders.

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