Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Sin of Omission

During a conversation with my wife recently, she discussed a particular author/professor (who shall remain nameless) in the "Emerging Church" movement, who's books she had been reading as part of her class on "Historical Paradigms of Liturgical Renewal." This author/professor was invited by the professor of my wife's class to visit the seminary a few weeks ago so the class could meet with him. During the group's discussion, the current state of the church was discussed. The author/professor expressed the sentiment that the current situation whereby many women discern God's call to positions of church leadership, yet are denied the right to pursue such a calling, is lamentable. Apparently, his feelings on this issue are strong enough that he claimed that this was the main reason that he has not become a Roman Catholic (although he appreciates their worship style rather highly).

My wife was expressing frustration over the fact that, now that she's read several of his books, it is clear that this author never makes mention of this issue in print. If the author/professor feels that this issue is so important, why not mention the issue when writing about subjects (such as church worship) where the issue is relevant? This silence is part of a larger pattern within Evangelical Christianity. It's one thing to be against women in ministry for theological reasons. That's a different argument. We're talking about something else here: people who find biblical and theological support for the inclusion of women in ministry, yet still behave under the clear assumption that ministerial roles will be filled by men unless explicitly told otherwise.

I should be clear: I'm not suggesting that this author should devote his energies, which are properly directed to issues regarding church worship and liturgy, to "the issue" of women in ministry. However, if women are involved in church worship and liturgy (as inevitably they are, if women are ministers at all), a book discussing church worship and liturgy ought to acknowledge women as ministers when it speaks of ministers, rather than simply using male terms. To fail to acknowledge this is to perpetuate false assumptions that men are more suited to ministry roles. While these assumptions remain widespread in the church, even among congregations that give nominal assent to the notion of women in ministry, women will still find resistance when they seek ministerial roles, even in such congregations. This has nothing to do with whether women "aren't suited" for such work (as complementarians often claim), but simply with the reality that many of us in the church still have unchallenged assumptions. If all a person's ever seen are male ministers, can that person be faulted for assuming that women are less suited to the role?

Also relevant here, especially in regard to the "Emerging Church" movement, is the trend toward the practices of the ancient church. There are many historical traditions that this movement is seeking to reclaim, and this has largely been a positive trend. But there are some historical traditions that it would be downright disastrous for the modern church to adopt. As my wife put it, "If I were looking to the historical traditions of the church to define who I am as a person, do you know what I'd find? Hello?!?! 'Devil's gateway'?" This highlights the need to question traditional assumptions even further.

So this is my challenge, not only to that particular author/professor, but to all who believe that women are gifted and called by God to be ministers of the church: when writing or talking about ministers, whatever your more explicit topic may be, please make sure to acknowledge women in these roles. It is only by explicitly acknowledging that women can be ministers that unchallenged biases against women as ministers will ever be overcome.

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