Church job prospects
So many voices are crying out about the ordination of women bishops. Many are expressing their pain at discrimination, their outrage at the sexism inherent in blocking progress, blocking their vocation. Into this fray I want to speak too, but my voice feels weak among all this outrage.
I am a natural candidate for ordination. I am a committed Christian who longs to serve Christ with all my energy. I love to teach the Bible, in fact I ache to teach the Bible, to introduce others to the wonders of Christ in the Gospels, to build others up in their knowledge and love of the Lord, to proclaim Christ so that he may be known, and I grieve at the ignorance in this generation of God’s Word.
Not only so, but I am available to begin a new career, my family are growing and, before I know it, will have left the nest. Surely now is my moment to fulfil my heart’s concern — I could go forward for ordination. It would satisfy my longing to teach God’s word and give me a ready platform from which to do it. It would provide me with a clear identity, a defined role and, most likely, a very helpful salary. When I sit in yet another service where the gospel message is fudged and muddled, I scream inside, I could do this better. It is tempting. Perhaps I should, and perhaps I could…
Equal but different
But I should not and will not go down that path, despite its attractions, because it would undermine everything I know to be true of Scripture. I have grappled with the ‘difficult’ passages about the role of women in the Bible over the last 25 years and how I have longed for them to say something other than they do. I have fought and wrestled with them and never been able to find wriggle room to escape two basic principles: that teaching authority in the church is given to a man, and wives should submit to their husbands. I have studied the debates about the controversial Greek in 1 Timothy 2, but cannot escape the clear instructions about male leadership in 1 Timothy 3. I have read the arguments about the changing face of culture, but cannot escape the fact that Paul argues not from culture, but from Genesis. I know Tom Wright points to Mary Magdalene as revealing transformed gender roles, but I also know better than to develop a whole theology from narrative; besides, Jesus did not appoint women as his apostles, although they were witnesses to his resurrection. As I studied, I discovered the joy of knowing that in Christ we are equal, women are included, women are to be taught and to study Scripture seriously, but, despite trying very hard, I cannot escape from the truth established at creation, that men and women have different responsibilities.
I attend a church where many feel differently about this issue and I have been asked to preach. When I hear a poor sermon, how I wish at times that I could take that offer up. Even my daughter said: ‘Why don’t you Mum — you could do much better!’ But, of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, I would be undermining all that I believe about Scripture. I am convinced that it is poor exegesis that argues for women to have the same role as men in church, so how could I exegete any other passage using all the exegetical tools at my disposal without eventually exposing that I was ignoring God’s voice by my very action? I confess I find the situation I am in very frustrating, but the solution is to keep praying for the male leaders of our churches to faithfully proclaim and teach God’s word and not to take over their job myself!
Affirm women’s ministry
There is another need too. In the middle of all this fury about what women cannot do, I hear little about what women should be doing. Those of us who are passionate about a biblical model of ministry need to affirm women’s ministry. We need to raise up an army of women who can teach God’s word to women. It is a huge task, a valuable task, and to think otherwise is a form of discrimination. I know my calling: it is not second rate or second best — I am an older woman who needs to teach younger women. It is difficult, because, as I seek to do this, I get no formal position, no salary, no job prospects and no career development. This is an issue conservative evangelicals need to address: how can we enable women like me to serve more, and free up many others for the task? As for me, I will serve Christ, despite all the muddle. It is lonely and hard at times, but I know that serving Christ in this world was never about my personal development, and always about taking up the cross.
Karen Soole is Chair of the Northern Women’s Convention. Readers may also like to read the article, ‘Justice, equality and truth’, also in this (January 2013) issue.