Monday, June 29, 2009

Female Pastor?

We pick up where we left off last week, as Abbe continues responding to the question: How did we get from there [church tradition/polity that prohibits female church leadership] to Pastor Jessi?

A few examples of passages that few, if any churches take literally:

Deuteronomy 21:18ff states that stubborn or rebellious teenagers must be stoned to death. Leviticus 27:31-33 requires that everyone give one tenth of everything they grow and produce to God, or else. Leviticus 19:19 prohibits livestock and seed cross-breeding or hybridization, as well as fabric made from more than one type of fiber. Literal interpretation alone would mean that countless adolescents, missing contributions to the church of incalculable value, hybrid seeds/animals, and polyester fabric have all escaped proper church judgment, if not death/punishment.

The New Testament is not exempt from selective literalism. If we believe that Paul’s words are definitive with regard to prohibiting women in church leadership (instead of, say, the words of Jesus against women, which, incidentally, are non-existent), then shouldn’t we also follow his admonition to cover or shave all women’s hair (1 Corinthians 11:6)? If not, why not? Who decides which is first century custom and which is essential biblical teaching? In Paul’s defense, we must also not forget all the women that he commends as saints and leaders in the early churches which he helped form: Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 4:15; 2 Timothy 1:5.

All this talk of evolving and selective scriptural interpretation notwithstanding, the church has not taken the parameters of its call to ordained leadership lightly. Our Book of Order—one of the essential guiding principles for church government—reads: Both men and women shall be eligible to hold church offices… As persons discover the forms of ministry to which they are called… they and the church shall pray for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit upon them and upon the mission of the Church. (G-6.0106) Our Book of Confessions—source of our most important historical faith statements and second only to the Bible as a document influencing our faith and practice—has this to say: The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles, rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church. (A Brief Statement of Faith 10.458ff)

Things finally changed when congregations, sessions, and presbyteries began to see that both men and women possessed the gifts and skills for leadership and ministry. When we finally recognized the reality of Pentecost: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2, quoting Joel) the question of Peter (Acts 11:17) demanded an answer: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

See you at Pastor Jessi’s installation service and celebration?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Dear Abbe,

Most of us probably grew up in religious traditions that prohibited women from taking leadership roles in the church. How did we get from there to Pastor Jessi?

Sign me,
Help My Unbelief

Dear HMU,

Our great, great grandmothers were most likely never allowed to own property or work outside the home. Our great, great grandfathers probably owned human servants of African descent. Our great grandmothers were surely never allowed to vote in U.S. or local elections. Did these circumstances occur because the social or moral fabric of society would have been ripped by female property ownership or entrepreneurial exercise, because slaves were sub-human, and because females are intellectually inferior or otherwise created in ways that make it dangerous or unwise for their votes to be counted?

I think a major part of the answer to these questions is, “No, but we’ve always done it that way?” Church, as an institutional body, is queen of that phrase. For the most part, “always” simply means “for as long as we can remember.” You might be surprised to know that the very early church ordained women. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon declared "No woman under 40 years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny." As I understand it, anyone ordained to the Holy Order of Deacon would be eligible for later ordination to the priesthood as well.

The first ordained female deacon was installed in the Presbyterian Church in 1923, the first female elder in the 1930s, and the first female pastor in 1956. In most small towns and churches like ours, it was 40 or more additional years before women felt comfortable and confident enough to accept nomination to church office.

The Church has sanctioned and strengthened patriarchy (i.e. “Father Knows Best”) much more and longer than society in general. Change in the church is often hard and halting. Refusal to enfranchise female voters and treatment of various ethnic people as property were not only supported and justified with biblical arguments, they were championed by church leaders. Dogmatism and doctrine are sometimes the bottleneck in which ethical/justice issues are entrapped.

The real issue boils down to a few critical determinations. Is it possible—more significantly, is it God’s intent—for us to limit our interpretation of ALL scripture to a literal one? My answer to both of these is “No.” Aside from separatist cults, people and churches who insist that scripture be taken only literally ALWAYS pick and choose which passages are on their “Top 10” literal list. Other passages are ignored or explain-away. Following any scripture literally, without also holding it to our understanding of God’s purposes for us by the Holy Spirit’s guidance is risky business.

(Continued next week.)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Convenio is the Spanish translation of “covenant.” It describes the document that evolves from a relationship of mutual trust and respect, in which partners agree regarding the components of a project for which they will take responsibility. There are multiple physical and fiscal resources to consider, as well as important human ones.

After the water testing was complete and our lab bottle was secured, sealed, and stored for transport, we sat down with Getsemani’s Consistory (Session) to work out the details of our water system plan/program. You might imagine that financial considerations would be the only ones of consequence. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Negotiation is the key word. There is give and take, offer and counter-offer, as the members of Getsemani’s Consistory and members of the Fayetteville/Pulaski team commit to provide a lengthy list of essential resources. Beyond the construction of a room, Getsemani’s leaders agreed to pay for and procure various components of the system, and Fayetteville/Pulaski’s team members committed to deliver and fund others.

In addition to arranging and paying for travel, transportation, lodging, and meals, the all-important resource of human beings must be addressed. In order to ensure the system’s long-term success, the Operating Partners (in this case, the Getsemani church) must commit to provide employees/volunteers to construct, operate, and maintain the system. To maximize the health benefits of newly-available filtered water, the Operating Partners must also provide educators to learn, teach, and share with the community on an ongoing basis a basic curriculum that has spiritual and health/hygiene components. In a culture that rarely has access to adequate amounts of filtered water, it is important to reinforce hygiene practices and remind/teach residents the why, when, and how for safe practices of common daily activities that involve water.

As Initiating Partners, we (Fayetteville/Pulaski team) needed to know how many people Getsemani would provide for these various tasks, so that we could adequately plan for their integration in the installation/education process. Aided by our interpreter, we carefully worked our way through all of the resource components, making written notation on parallel English/Spanish documents. Once each group was satisfied with the agreement, signatures were added and copies distributed.

© 2009 Todd Jenkins