When I first read that the Columbia Union Conference voted to ordain without regard to gender, it was after seeing “Red Tails,” so my comments will be coloured by its influence. Let me ‘splain...
“Red Tails” is movie about the Tuskeegee Airmen, a squadron of black fighter pilots who were significant in the US’s contribution to the Allies winning WWII. The irony of their story is that, despite being regarded as heroes and receiving distinguished service medals up the wahzoo, these men still were not able to sit down in a restaurant and order a meal in the same country whose freedoms they fought to protect--all because of the colour of their skin.
Shucks, even when they arrived home on warships, these same men had to walk down the “coloureds” gangplank to the coloureds reception area after docking. “It was back to reality,” said one of the Tuskeegee veterans, recalling the sign he saw overhead, on the day he returned to his “land of the free, home of the brave” when the war was over. Even after legislation was brought in to desegregate American society, the attitudes that founded the discriminatory social norm had subsided somewhat, but never faded away. Even after the turn of the century, those attitudes can still be found alive and kicking. You don’t have to go too far to find them.
Enter the above article on women’s ordination, in light of the topic of legislation saying one thing and reality being another...
So now I read that a vote has passed, ensuring female pastors will be ordained in the influential Columbia Union Conference, rather than the patriarchally preferred commissioning. This “landmark” decision coming on the heels of a European conference setting the precedent, with a great likelihood of more denominational regions to follow suit. The president of our world church and his supporters feel our whole denomination will essentially go in the toilet if this trend continues. Hmmm... I am happy for the decision and the female pastors who will benefit from it. I truly didn’t think this would come in my lifetime. As for myself however, I don’t live in a conference where such a decision has been made, or is likely to make without significant “prompting.” Why do I say that of my conference? Well before someone reading this is prompted to report me to conference president and ministerial director, hear me out...
I have heard pastors, congregants, and church administrators within my conference express opinions that are akin to the desire to not see a female pastor ordained. I have witnessed pastors, congregants and church administrators within my conference regard me from the assumption that all female pastors have a chip on their shoulder and a stereotypical, self-serving, feminine agenda. Interestingly enough, many of these people, who are considered to be founders, builders and shapers of our church, have expressed opinions that would also indicate they take issue with any person, any concept, anything that lies outside of their known universe – which they believe to be sanctioned by God. Nevertheless, I recognize and acknowledge the reality that not everyone within my conference would be in favour of ordaining women pastors. Which brings me to a lesson I learned at an early age -- you cannot legislate “isms”. You can make the actions that come from them illegal, but the insidious thoughts categorized by “isms” like racism, sexism, ageism, etc., cannot be regulated in any way, shape or form. They will be there so long as they are chosen to be.
I am happy for the Columbia Union Conference’s decision to “ordain for ministry regardless of gender.” I am happy for the North German Union Conference that started this ball rolling (again, a century later). I am happy for every echelon of our beloved church that chooses to ordain all its pastors, regardless of gender. Yes, I am happy, but reservedly so. As more and more conferences choose to recognize that God can call whomever He pleases to do His work and build His kingdom, one thing must be remembered. Living in the 21st Century is no guarantee of the extinction of disrespectful, discriminatory, distasteful, and disregarding attitudes that have festered since millennia passed. Forasmuch as this is a step forward for the edification of God’s kingdom, it marks a line in the sand that a number of individuals will not cross. Sadly, they will choose to not cross for reasons that I believe will add to the bruise on the heel of the Enmity promised in Genesis 3.
We female pastors still have to attend workers’ meetings alongside those who will have voted against this policy and be subjected to their charter-protected prejudice, (highly) likely without the vocal support of those who will have voted for the policy. How good is the policy then, if no one will stand in the face of adversity to support it? I guess what I’m saying is that moving to ensure the ordination of women on paper, means little if there is no movement to recognize and respect the women on the frontlines, in the mission field, and gettin’ ‘er done because that is what her Heavenly Father called (and spiritually gifted) her to do.
Yeah, I said it. I went there. The spiritual gifts are NOT gender-specific. If they were, I should not have had pastoring and teaching in my top three gifts, each of the four times I did a spiritual gifts inventory. If the spiritual gifts are gender-specific, find me the biblical evidence to prove it -- not support it, prove it. One time ago, there was a client at my workplace who had very “rigid and conservative” ideas on male and female roles that were said to be biblically-inspired. When I eventually asked him if he had a problem with me being a pastor, he said, “I cannot ignore what the bible says about women not having authority over a man, not speaking in church, etc. But I cannot ignore the fact that I see God’s spirit in you, and He is using you to reach me and teach me. It is clear He has called you for this work. I am honoured to have learned from you and consider you my sister in ministry.”
Here’s the rant: Do people really think I chose to be in further financial debt and hear people (who were bold enough to come to my face) tell me that I have no business being a pastor because I’m female? Do people really think I chose to have conference officials tell me that I’m less of a liability and easier to hire if I’m married? Do people really think I chose the social hardships I’ve endured for no other reason than being black, female, or both? Escuchame (Spanish for “yo, listen up”), the first part of Jn. 15:16 applies to me and everyone else I know who can relive the story of their call to ministry. God chose me for this work. I didn’t choose it. All I did was say, “yes” because I love my LORD and want nothing less than to do that which is pleasing in His sight. If someone has a problem with me saying “yes,” would you rather I disobey God? Just a question. How do I know that God called me to be a pastor? Oh it was Him, alright. But that is the subject of another muse.
Until next time, peace.
Karen Hayde is chaplain at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre in Nanaimo, BC.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4702