One of the challenging subjects still in circulation throughout several branches of Christianity is the issue of women in ministry. It seems every generation must revisit this issue. Some hold on doggedly to the complementarian ideology that men are the only ones who are permitted to be Apostle, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and or Teachers. Their argument for the position is supposedly supported by Paul, the Apostle and the writer of much of the New Testament contained within the Bible. The first thing I do not want to do is rehash the same old argument from Paul’s letter to Timothy. It is well known or at least enough articles are circulating about this case. I could do it for you, but the mood just doesn’t strike me at this time. Instead, what I would rather do is recount the narrative of a recent encounter I had with a wonderful Christian couple who are or were complementarian. They hold the position women should not be ministers such as pastor over a congregation or have authority over men.
Our conversation was lovely. You can interpret what you want out of this statement. Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t.
The conversation opened up with them because they recognized several item on the lid of my laptop. It is covered with a collage of various stickers, pictures and words. The decor on the laptop is there to open up conversations with people, it works. She took the bait, and I think they got more than they bargained for in the discussion that followed.
When I introduced myself as an associate pastor serving under a woman pastor, this troubled them, and they wanted to set my theology right concerning the position and authority of women in ministry.
They presented the usual arguments from Paul's letters to Timothy – I let this go on until they had exhausted their arguments. I listened intently encouraging them to state their position completely. I urged them to “say more” until they finished. Then, I said, “Maybe you're right.”
The distinction between our views of women and ministry were as evident as a purple Elephant in the room.
Now, when confronted by a person or people who are deeply entrenched in their rhetoric or ideology I like to say to them – “maybe your right.” I don’t do this to be disingenuous, but to at least honor their thoughts and opinion. Okay, I will admit it, I do mean “Your wrong.” But I do not want to end the discussion and open them up to another perspective. I don’t expect to win them over, but at least I desire to engage them in some critical thinking about their position. Besides it is a good exercise for myself to give answers for my dogma and theology. To be held accountable to others.
They most likely wouldn’t want to listen to what I have to say if I did this directly so, I do it indirectly to allow the flow of thought to be an equal exchange. The arena of critical thinking about Christian dogma and theology is essential because it has everything to do with how we view God’s person.
Women in ministry are a crucial issue in the Free Methodist Church. Therefore, the conversation was meaningful and must be addressed, but not in a typical manner.
So, I asked the couple to please listen to me entirely in the same way I treated them. They kindly agreed, and I began to lay out my argument for women in ministry, via Paul the Apostle as the source supporting my position. This capture their attention and they wanted to another perspective on the issue. I stated that we need to see the other places where Paul references women and ministry because much of what influences my position is what is clearly in the open, that is accessible to everyone, but usually ignored throughout Paul’s writings. Frankly, they admitted they had never been presented with another view of the problem, especially with Paul as the source.
So, I began laying out the case. The conversation started with explaining how women in ministry became an issue in the when Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity as an official religion and women in leadership was challenged due to the male dominance of Roman/Greek culture.
Before this paradigm shift, women comprised the much of Jewish and Gentile leadership in the church outside of Jerusalem. There are many women the apostle Paul recognized in ministry. They were Phoebe, whom Paul calls a presbyter and pastor of the church at Cenchrease near Corinth. There were Prisca, Pricilla, Julia, Nereus’ sister, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Rufus’ mother, Junia whom Paul praises as a prominent Apostle. St. Chrysostom seems to confirm her Apostleship explicitly by writing, "Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title Apostle.” There also was Chloe, who lead the congregation in Corinth, all women Paul names to acknowledge and praise their ministries.
Now, it doesn’t make sense to say, logically or critically thinking, that the Apostle Paul clearly states women shouldn’t be in ministry when he openly accepts and praises them for their ministries. Especially when he recognizes them in pastoral roles and even as an Apostle having authority and teaching positions for whole congregations or regional area they administered.
Still, I have to ask, do we understand God’s intent for the relationship between men and women?
When I view the world around us, I recognize it is a broken world, but at the same time is filled with beauty, wonder, and awe. One of the greatest wonders I have ever seen or experienced is the maternal drive of the female of particular species. Growing up on and around farms gave me a great appreciation for the female of the species.
Many animals exhibit the drive to protect their young at any cost. It wasn’t the bull that worked to keep us away from the calves; it was the heifers. The bull couldn’t care less. He had a docile nature. We could climb on his back, and he would ignore us and keep on grazing. Our grandparents were certainly grateful for the character of that bull.
The geese, ducks and bandy chickens, well, they are another story to tell. Your life was in peril when you approach those small chickens. Bandy chickens can be fierce protectors of their young. Those hens struck fear into even the bravest farm boy or girl. The old goose, oh she was the worst. She would lower her head and stretch out her neck then chase you relentlessly. Then when she got ahold of you with her beak it hurt as she grabbed and twisted, then did it again just for good measure. I don’t think we ever learned our lesson though as we continued to take risks with her goslings.
The maternal instinct, this drive is considered to be fairly universal. Reflect on the women inimpoverished areas of the world. When I visited at Medical Teams International’s local center,there was a display illustrating the maternal drive of the women trying to serve their children.
Most Mothers will do whatever it takes to care for their children. They carry their jars to fill with their daily water, fill up their jar, and then they walk the hours needed just so that their children will have water. Then they do it the next day. And they do it the next day. And they do it the next day.
There is this maternal impulse, this ancient nurturing instinct and it transcends time. It transcends culture; it transcends economics. It transcends species. There is an old motheringinspiration, and it’s also a divine impulse.