women

The Glass Ceiling Ain't Broke Yet

By Rev. Mindi

A few weeks ago, we watched the graphic of the glass ceiling break as Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee by a major political party. While presidential candidates in the past have had it mentioned that they were good parents, there was much lauding of Hillary’s motherhood, and behind-the-scenes talk about her sticking by her husband during their difficult times.

This past week, we have heard stories of Kerri Walsh Jennings being a terrific mother and how she has to balance motherhood and being an athlete. Headlines that congratulated the wife of a Chicago Bears lineman who won bronze in women’s trap shooting: her name is Corey Cogdell (the Chicago Tribune received a lot of feedback on that one). That glass ceiling is not broken, only cracked. Because women are barely getting through.

Less than one quarter of the churches in my region have a woman on the pastoral staff, and of that quarter, one third are part-time. And while more women are still entering seminary than men, more women are in search processes and more women are not considered by search committees. There are still churches, in 2016, in my denomination that refuse to look at the professional profile of a woman minister in their search processes.

So I would like to ask my male colleagues to consider the following:

--Would you enter a profession in which you were significantly less likely to be hired because of your gender?

--Would you accept a position at a church if the person before you was a woman and received more pay than you, even though you have the same level of experience (or even more?)

--Would you be comfortable in a denomination in which there were churches that would not consider you because you are male?

--Would you accept a position in which a major change in family status would require you to be gone for 6-12 weeks, but the church would not pay for your leave time?

 

Now, ask yourself these real questions that I have personally been asked by search committees in the past, and how would you feel about them being asked of you:

--“How will you balance your family time and church time?”

--“What will you do on Sunday if your child is sick?”

--“What will your spouse do if you are the pastor? Will they be involved in the church?”

--“How is your physical health?”

--“How will you be able to pastor the (opposite sex) in our church?”

--“Will you leave the church if you have a baby?”

No my friends, the glass ceiling has not been broken. It has been cracked, but we have a long way to go in breaking it.

 

*Note: this post reflects a binary way of thinking, and is definitely not encompassing of all ministers or all families, especially LGBTQ individuals and their families. I cannot imagine the list of questions my LGBTQ clergy friends have been asked that would never be asked of those of us who are cisgender and heterosexual. 

Reverent and Rule-Breaking: There's a Woman In the Pulpit

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

I have had the pleasure of being part of the RevGalBlogPals community, a group of active clergywomen bloggers, and the great honor of being a contributing author in the RevGals first collective book There’s a Woman In the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor, which is being released today by Skylight Paths Publishing.

As Rev. Martha Spong, director of RevGalBlogPals and the editor of this work (as well as a seminary colleague and friend of mine), states in the introduction, “Our community includes people who are single and married and partnered and divorced and widowed, gay and straight, cis- and transgender, parents and not, clergy and clergy spouses and laypeople, with an age range of twenty-something to seventy-something…” and we come from a variety of denominations around the world. In short, you will not find another work with the personal voices of such a diverse group of clergy women.

Included in this diversity of clergy women’s personal stories are some common threads: the difficulty of following one’s call into ministry by a still male-dominated patriarchal church structure, sometimes calling women away from the denomination of their youth; the focus by others on what clergy women wear and look like; wrestling with theological questions and walking with people on their faith journeys. 

There are prayers and poetry, laments and reflections; tales of baptisms and communions, deaths and births, revelations and resolutions. The stories shared are often of those intimate moments in ministry: placing ashes upon the forehead of a stranger; praying for a dying stranger; baptizing a child; being in the ER when people are informed their loved ones are gone. These intimate moments are shared beautifully, and as I read them, renewed in me the understanding of God’s call to this important ministry I am part of as a Christian pastor.

As I read each woman’s story, I recognized my own frustrations and trying times of being a woman in ministry. I especially resonated with the tales of breaking the rules. Standing in the line of Jesus, women called into ministry have been called to break the rules—even if their denomination ordains women. We still are challenging a status quo, a cultural idea that men are ministers and women are not. And in subtler ways we have been breaking rules even in our liberal, affirming contexts, because the work is not done to welcome all and to follow Jesus’ call.

This is not just a book to give to the clergy woman you know, though she will enjoy it, I’m sure. This is the book to give to anyone considering the ministry. This is the book to give anyone who loves Jesus but isn’t sure about the church and its laundry list of rules. Guess what—some of the clergy aren’t so sure about those rules, either. Yes, there is a place for you. There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and she’s inviting you in.


#YesAllWomen

By Rev. Mindi

In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, this time in Santa Barbara, the hashtag #YesAllWomen popped up on Twitter. Because while this was another mass shooting, this time the motive was quite clear from the beginning: the shooter’s hatred of women.

This isn’t mental illness. And while the shooter may have had a mental illness, it does not go hand-in-hand with his motives. Misogyny is not a mental illness. Misogyny is a direct result of patriarchy. Women must be controlled, despised, scapegoated and blamed.

Of course, the backlash started almost immediately with “not all men.” We women know that. We know that not all men hate women—but the minute we start to dismiss it we have lost the voice of women. All women have experienced sexism. All women have experienced fear. All women have been marginalized, oppressed, and in some ways have experienced violence or the repercussions of it. The fact that the woman who began the hashtag has now removed her Twitter account due to the threats against her is proof enough.

And within the hashtag other conversations have occurred. Often, white women end up dominating the conversation, ignoring the violence of racism within the conversations of patriarchy and feminism. The voices of women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and women who are poor may be ignored or trampled on, or seen as not as important as the “overall” message of violence against all women. But we cannot include all women if we do not include the voices of those who have experienced violence and hate due to race, sexual orientation, transgender, disability or poverty.

It is time—instead of letting another misogynist gone rampant—to allow the voice of women to speak. It’s time to allow the stories that women share to speak for themselves. For all of us to listen to the voices of the girls in Nigeria, the Christian woman in prison in Sudan, the voices of women in our churches who have experienced sexism and violence.

As Christians, where do we speak up for all women? Another hashtag, created by Joelle Colville Hanson, #YesAllBiblicalWomen is a powerful voice about the marginalization and oppression of women in the Bible, in church history, and church life today. There is now a Twitter account @AllBibleWomen that is tweeting the stories of Biblical women along the hashtag that speak out for women from the Bible to church life today. Here are a few examples tweeted out in the last two days:

Sarah: because my husband thought pimping me out was better than other men killing him to take me.

The Daughters of Zelophehad: Because women controlling their own lives was so radical we had to advocate for the laws to change.

Miriam: because I was a prophet and a worship leader, and my role is minimized to sister and singer.

Joanna: Because I was an apostle, but they did not believe me, and did not grant me the title.

Phoebe: Because I smuggled the Epistle to the Romans into the city, but women still can't be action heroes.

Michal: bc I loved/protected a man who "won" me from my father by sexually violating 100 foreign men. Turned he was a rapist and murderer.

 

For more, check out Twitter #YesAllBiblicalWomen @AllBibleWomen, and #YesAllWomen

Let the voice of women, silenced in the Bible, silenced in our churches, and silenced by gunshots, be heard loud and clear. 

Women Responding to the Call of God

 When Jennifer Harris Dault put out a call for Baptist women’s call stories, I was excited for the opportunity to share the story of God’s call on my life (from my perspective, of course).  I quickly wrote out my story, edited it a bit, and sent it to her.  Many months later, The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God was released.  I purchased the book for my mother for Christmas and waited for my copy to arrive in the mail, excited to see my name as a chapter in this collection.

However, when I sat down to read this canon of twenty-three stories of Baptist women called into ministry, I forgot about the details of my own story.  As I read, chapter by chapter, story by story, woman by woman, I heard my story in the voices of these women.  Women who had faithfully responded to that inkling, that nudge, that Divine Word, that altar call, that prayer to follow Jesus by going into ministry, and all of whom at one point or another faced incredible challenges to following that call.  More often than not, it was a male voice telling them, “No.”  Not the voice of God, not the Bible, but the voice of pastors, teachers, even husbands and fathers, saying “No” simply because she was a woman. 

Even though my call story is included in this collection, it isn’t complete by itself. As I read their stories, I recalled other moments when men said “No” simply because they were a man and I was a woman. I also now remember times when other women told me I needed to learn my place.  I remember friends and family who believed they were being loving by telling me I had no place in ministry whose words were crushing. 

But I also remember so much more now.  As I read these testimonies, I feel pride in remembering all the encouraging voices on the way—pastors, parents and grandparents, teachers, friends—all who saw the gifts of God in me and pulled me along the way.  I recall my own personal experiences with God when I heard, or felt, very clearly that God was indeed calling me to be a minister.

While this book is written by Baptist women and their experience, I believe there are many women in other traditions who have experienced similar discrimination, and I hope, similar places of encouragement along the way in their faith journey.  Baptists, of course, bear our own unique name and burdens, stereotypes and generalizations, and there are many former Baptist women serving in other traditions now, but I believe this book can be a work of encouragement for all women pursuing the call to ministry. 

As I read this book with my story in it, as a fifth-generation ordained American Baptist minister (and the first woman, with my mother following after me), I wonder about my grandmother and the other minister’s wives in my family and their daughters.  I wonder if they ever wondered if God was calling them into pastoral ministry but set it aside, believing that they were fulfilling that calling by being a pastor’s wife. I wonder how many women have been denied even the possibility of dreaming about being a minister. 

In more conservative and evangelical circles there is a continuing debate about Biblical equality and women in pastoral leadership roles.  In the progressive/liberal churches, we often assume that debate has been settled.  Yet I know my colleagues in other traditions, and I in my American Baptist tradition know our name has been rejected from church search committees because we are women. We know that churches still refuse to consider a woman, even if the batch of profiles they receive from their regional office are full of women’s names, even when we know that over 60% of seminary students today are women and that number continues to grow. 

The Modern Magnificat brings a challenge to the church universal: women will follow the call by God, despite the attempts of denominational bodies or local churches, despite the naysayers in the pulpit and on the parish committee.  Will the church be the one to change and accept that God calls all people, or will the church continue to hold on to false interpretations of Scripture used to justify power-holding and power-over others?  For there is no other purpose of denying women into ministry: besides the numerous Biblical examples from Deborah to Phoebe, besides the traditions of women partnering with men in ministry throughout church history, the need to hold power and authority over others is what perpetuates the denial of women into ministry—or indeed, any group considered a minority in power. 

While there are other great books out there on women in ministry, written from academic theological perspectives, read this book of women whose own stories, who own narratives share their experiences of denial and perseverance, of challenge and most importantly, hope. 

(You can read the introduction of Jennifer Harris Dault’s book here).

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Radical Thanksgiving

By Rev. Mindi

I was going to write a whole post about how we as progressive Christians can reclaim Thanksgiving as a spiritual practice of giving thanks and giving back from what God has given us on a daily basis, to acknowledge and honor the fact that the tame little story we learned in elementary school about the Pilgrims and Indians is based on a white myth that we Euro-Americans keep retelling to the next generation because the truth about genocide is too uncomfortable for us to bear… but that might wait for another day. Or maybe from this one brief paragraph you’ll garner enough insight for yourself (and read this great article on the Huffington Post asking the question Do Native Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving?)

But then this happened. The Church of England, by a margin of 6 votes, was unable to allow female bishops for the first time.  By six votes. 

And suddenly I’m thinking back over almost 400 years of not only the struggles for religious freedom, but also the freedom of call, and the freedom to speak.  I think of not only the Separatists in England that later became known as the Puritans and Pilgrims, but of the very few (less than ten) who left the Separatists in Holland to return to England after being influenced by the Anabaptists and began meeting as the first Baptists in England, meeting in secret.  I think of Roger Williams in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, banished back to England but fled to what is now Rhode Island, who not only had radical beliefs about baptism and the separation of church and state, but also believed that the Native Americans already knew God and that he was not called to convert them but to become friends with them.  And I think of the women who began to preach almost 400 years ago in small New England churches along with the women who were burned at the stake in Salem.  This tension of the freedom of the Spirit and the need to control to the point of death go hand in hand over our last four hundred years.

We’ve come so far and yet we take steps backward every step forward.  We continue to forget our history and even disguise our stories in overreaching myths.  My Southern Baptist sisters, from the same roots of religious freedom and the separation of church and state that was established along with the First Baptist Church in Providence, RI, still face expulsion for ordination, along with the congregations that call them.  And now my Anglican sisters, who have only been able to be ordained for twenty years, are faced with the stained-glass ceiling because of a few who might be uncomfortable, for those who claimed this was a cultural issue and not a biblical issue.

But this is a Biblical issue.  It is a Biblical issue when we ignore our history and repeat the mistakes of the past—didn’t the prophets teach us this when the people ignored the poor and the widows and the orphans and left the way of their God?  Isn’t it a Biblical issue when we ignore the basic human rights of others and treat entire cultures as not worthy of survival, as the ancient Israelites faced and as Native Americans have experienced, and how many groups around the world continue to experience, while Christians have stood by or mainly been silent (as happening in Gaza and Israel)?  And isn’t it a Biblical issue when we silence voices speaking out against injustice, and deny rights and responsibilities to individuals based on our DNA such as race, gender, and sexual orientation?  Didn’t the Syrophonecian woman challenge Jesus herself to be heard?  Didn’t Priscilla and Phoebe serve in equal roles as Paul?  And didn’t Paul himself say there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)?

It is a travesty that women cannot be bishops in the Church of England just because it makes some people uncomfortable.  It is outrageous that this is said in the name of tradition.  It is unthinkable that this is not seen as a Biblical issue but a cultural one, and that the very people who do not want the Church of England to give in to the culture of today use their own culture of tradition as their excuse.

The world around us has had women in leadership in just about every position. While the U.S. still waits to have its first female president, many other nation-states including the United Kingdom have moved forward.  The U.S. had a record number of women elected to Congress this year.  And yet, for some reason in these people’s minds, while God would allow a woman to rule a country (as the Queen in the United Kingdom, who is also technically the head of the Church of England, ironically), while women can do just about anything today, they cannot lead in a church. 

There is nothing Biblical in that argument. Instead, it is giving in to a very old culture and tradition that states the way things have been is the way they should be.  White men rule the world, so therefore white men should continue.  Our version of Christianity is the right way to believe, so others must convert.  Our culture is superior, so others must become Westernized.  And so we continue to perpetuate the myth that we continue to teach to elementary school children: our version of history is the right one because it’s neat and orderly and makes us look good.  In the church, we perpetuate that myth as well: because we’ve always had male bishops and male church leaders, it’s the right one because it’s neat and orderly.

To truly be counter-cultural, to truly be revolutionary, to truly be Biblical and living into God’s ways, we have to learn from our past mistakes and know that God is continuing to lead us forward.  The way of the world is to stick with the culture and traditions of the past; the Biblical way, and the way of God, is to continue to seek God’s insight in our own lives, to come to new and greater conclusions of God’s inclusive love, as Paul did in his letter to the Galatians, as Jesus did when he was challenged by the Syrophonecian woman, as the prophets did long ago when they challenged the status quo.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Eat, drink, and be merry.  Give thanks to God who has given this beautiful earth as our dwelling place.  But let us stop perpetuating myths, and let us give thanks to those who have challenged, who have spoken out on behalf of the marginalized, and who continue to lead us forward. Remember and mourn with our Native American brothers and sisters, with our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, and with our Anglican brothers and sisters.  Let us give thanks to God, who always gives us another chance to learn from our mistakes, and to grow in our understanding of God’s great love.

Oh, and P.S. To hear some great stories of women who are challenging authority and leadership culture in the church, check out this book by Jennifer Harris Dault, released yesterday: The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God.  My call story is included in this collection.