Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!”
It hasn’t been since 2005 when I last took a serious crack at studying the various sides of this debate about whether the Bible permits women to serve in ordained and other leadership capacities in the church. It strikes me that Beck’sTwo Views on Women in Ministryfails to add anything new to this conversation, even though it presents a fair display of biblical interpretation within a commitment to orthodoxy, that allows for reasonable Christians to land on either side. I would personally take an even stronger stance than Craig Keener, who wrote: “I argue that the Bible permits women’s ministry under normal circumstances and prohibits it only under exceptional circumstances” (208).
To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection of Christ. To preach the Gospel is simply to tell the truth that Christ is risen. Does the Bible permit women to be preachers for the church today? How can it not, when the first Christian preacher was a woman? When Mary Magdalene finally recognized the Risen Christ at the empty tomb on Easter morning, John writes, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:18). This is the first real and true Christian sermon. Any truly Christian sermon that followed was simply an expansion of Mary’s proclamation. Paul, in Galatians, writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…” And the Book of Acts reminds us of the women disciples that shared in leadership in the early church.
If Genesis 1:26-27 affirms that both male and female are made in the Image of God, both declared “very good,” then Mary’s proclamation on Easter morning is the first glimpse of the new creation, where that which has been fractured by the Fall (gender inequality) is then restored to God’s original creative intent, where women and men are once again, equally “very good.” For culturally conditioned reasons, the church has only really behaved as though men are “very good” while women are somewhere between the “very good” of men and the “good” of the rest of creation.
The church’s more recent embrace of women’s ordination is an attempt to restore that which was broken in the Fall. Anyone who has been married for some time knows that equal value and voice is what enables both partners to flourish in life. Opponents of women in ministry will suggest that it is the roles that men and women play that are important for this debate (complementarian)—that God wired men and women differently to fulfill different functions and roles in the body of Christ. Ok, all of this is fine so long as these respective roles allow for a balance of power between men and women in the church. There cannot be equality without equal power distribution. And if there is equal power distribution, and a woman is gifted and called to preach, why is it that only the men get to determine that? And why is it that there are roles that are reserved for men only, but there are not roles that are reserved for women only? Why in the PCA would women not be allowed by Deacons? What would be the role of a woman if not a Deacon? From my perspective, I wonder if this debate has more to do with the unconscious desire for power. I wonder if the sinful human quest for power is a force that keeps the rest of the church (Roman Catholic, for instance) from seeking a governance where power is balanced. Is it not the same sin that kept blacks in the back of the bus and it’s the same sin that keeps us from embracing brown immigrants today? This is a compelling clip:
The ship of this debate has sailed for me long ago. What matters to me now is how I hold my perspective on women’s rights and equality while doing ministry in a Latino/a community, which does not necessarily share my western-influenced perspective. In this context, it is not so much about whether one can be ordained to ministry—that is not the space in which I am currently working, and besides, most of the Latino/a’s are Catholic, whose theological polity reinforces their traditional paradigm. The question for me, is how do I respect a family’s orientation toward individual roles in the family when they are different than mine? Is it possible for me to encourage women to have a voice without offending the man of the house? Is it possible for me to simply start asking questions to the father that could, in time, open his mind a bit more to the value of his wife’s perspective? Could I ask him, in other words, “What does your wife think about what your son should do?”
For me, these kinds of sticky, culture-war issues that divide churches require from me, more than anything else, a pastoral approach. All I know is that the institutions of our world—all of them—are always much better when they are led by women and men together. There is just too much at stake to keep living otherwise.
8 responses to “Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!””
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A fair and wonderful question from you, “And why is it that there are roles that are reserved for men only, but there are not roles that are reserved for women only?” I will ponder more on that!
And I also will contemplate on your discussion of “power”.
I think I told you before, in my Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver growing up, we always had female pastors way back to my early childhood–and I was born in the 60’s (grin).
Part of my current “bias” most certainly goes back to that experience, of having a significantly “agenda” driven pastoral couple at Wellshire, divorced, but soon married to each other, always saying that women could do it better than men and they were going to prove it…kinda turned me off.
Thanks for bringing up the Catholic Church hierarchy. I was going to comment on that, but ran out of room…
I do remember your experience at Wellshire and I think I would have reacted in the same way had I been in your shoes. When a conversation turns into a conquest, compassionate dialogue quickly halts.
That was an excellent introduction and I appreciate the “Mary proclamation” on Easter morning. Thanks for being “real” about the space you are working with in the Latino/a community and their family roles and obligations. When we served in Africa and Afghanistan there were social structures and family roles that we had to be sensitive to, else our witness and partially open door for relationship building would be closed. The East and many 2nd and 3rd world countries view the West as very arrogant, believing that they can impose their Western “worldview” upon everyone else in the world.
I think you have a healthy outlook focused on pastoral ministry of presence. Thanks for sharing your missional, chaplaincy, pastoral perspective. Great post.
You bring up a great example of how culture influences this conversation with the latino/a experience as being different from your own. We could become colonialists (again) by dragging people into our cultural milieu before they are prepared to walk there of their own accord. I think incrementalism and modelling a different way in community are ways to create change. It doesn’t happen as quickly as one would like, but it is a healthier way forward in my opinion.
I agree, Mark, thank you. This is why I have been empathetic toward the African Methodists in the Americans’ efforts to change the definition of marriage. There has to be cultural empathy on this and other “culture war” issues.
I skimmed the book (ok I looked at the cover and read the chapter titles) and realized that it really did have little to add to the conversation. My post expresses my frustration that this is still an issue in the church. I think it is hurting us in multiple ways. I also find it confusing that the more conservative churches tend to hold their numerical size while generally still advocating for a complementarian position while the mainline denominations are rapidly shrinking while encouraging an egalitarian one. I really am not sure what to make of this. You?
I think it has more to do with the mainline church’s lack of evangelistic fervor as to why we are dying when the narrow minded churches are (were?) growing. I don’t see complimentarian churches lasting long as such, just like the boomer mega churches. The sun shines brightest before it sets.
Chris great post. It will be a unique challenge in the hispanic context as well. I too am with you that this should hopefully not be a dominant conversation much longer.