June 3, 2010

Women of the cloth? Some still say no

I guess I’m not really a pastor.  I guess my past 15 years of being in ministry have been in vain.  I guess I’ve been deluded.

Apparently, the Church of England, aka the Anglican/Episcopalian Church and the mother church of the Methodist church to which I belong, has never had a female bishop and, even though it’s now the year of our Lord 2010, they aren’t about to any time soon – or at least without some serious poop hitting some serious fans.

I find this odd as they decided to allow for the ordination of women as priests (rather belatedly compared to many other Christian denominations) in 1994 and over a third of the priests in the Church of England are now women.    They are now on track to ordain their first female bishop – but alas, giving that much authority to a woman is simply too much for a significant percentage of that denomination and there are already pre-emptive volleys being fired by the misogynists in their fold; i.e. threats to split from the Church and/or to convert to Catholicism if a woman is ever made a bishop.

The folks in that camp base their prejudice upon a literal reading of certain scriptures (taken vastly out of context) from which they conclude that women shouldn’t be leaders of the church.

Their logic eludes me.  The Church of England rightly interpreted those passages in 1994 and started allowing women to serve as leaders; i.e. as priests.  Once a church has made that choice, there is no logical reason to not allow them to also serve in the role of bishop as well.  Alas, fear and defensiveness defy reason.

What’s more, the Church of England was created when King Henry the VIIIth due to Cardinal Wolsey’s inability to get the Pope to grant Henry an annulment from one of his many wives (yep, I might be related to that Wolsey).   Said wife was unable to bear a child and Anne Boleyn promised that she would bear him a son if he were to marry her instead.  Henry divorced and created a new national Church severed from the Roman Catholic Church; i.e. a church that allows for divorce and remarriage – despite the fact that there are many more verses of scripture that ostensibly oppose those things than there are that imply that women shouldn’t serve as leaders.  (Oh, Anne gave birth to a daughter and Henry had Anne’s head removed).

Can you say hypocrisy?   What’s at hand here folks is patriarchy, misogyny, and womenphobia – things that fly in the face of logic or consistency.

John Wesley was an Anglican priest in the 1700’s and he grew frustrated with the staid church of his day and began a movement taking the gospel to the streets and meeting the people where they were.  He was shunned from many pulpits and he ordained a bishop in order to give birth to the Methodist Church.  He did this on the same authority as was employed to create the Church of England and followed that precedent.  In time, Methodists began ordaining women as pastors and as bishops.  I was ordained into ministry by a female Bishop and I currently serve under two female bishops (Minnesota and Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences respectively).  In fact, the congregation I was raised in had female pastors on staff the whole time I was there.  That a Protestant church is liable to split apart over allowing women to serve as bishops baffles me.

I’m baffled all the more by the fact that there have already been women elected to serve as Anglican bishops in other locations around the world.   Moreover, the Church of England officially recognizes the Methodist Church and our leaders – so what’s up?  Are they now implying that I’m not really ordained?  That because a woman laid hands upon my head, even though the hands that touched hers touched Peter’s and therefore Jesus’ hands, that my credentials as being a pastor are null and void?  Sure feels that way.

It’s not merely because of my unique experience of having so many female clergy in my life, or because I took a course in feminist philosophy when I was in college, that I hold my beliefs and hold this mirror up to the conservatives in the Church of England to gaze into.  You see, I have a twin sister.  I know first hand, and very full well, that females are every bit as good as and equal to males.  Carole kicked my butt on numerous occasions (until I reached puberty anyway) and she smoked me in math and ran circles around me in the science classes we had in high school.  She knows her Bible as well as I do (though she can’t read it in Hebrew or Greek ..who am I kidding? I barely can myself) and she can more than hold her own in theological debate and she’s a phenomenal Sunday School teacher.

I suppose outrage might be one reaction to learning this dismaying news about the shite hitting the fan in the Church of England.  Another option would be patronizing self-righteousness, as if my church were better than theirs.  It isn’t.  I think what’s called for is a dose of “doing unto others and I’d have them do unto me.”  If I do or say things that are out of line, I would like to have brothers and sisters in the faith (or even outside of the faith) to lovingly hold a mirror up to gaze upon and to hug me and love me back into remembering who and Whose I am.

If any of you happen to know any conservative Anglicans, give ‘em a hug and tell them that God loves them.  She really does.

– Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor (elder) who serves the Wesley Fellowship campus ministry at Wesley Chapel at CU- Boulder   He’s currently writing a book on progressive Chrisitanity

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