The following is an expanded version of an article originally published in the SEMI (Fuller's student newsletter) in October, 2008, which had devoted the issue to remembering Dr. David M. Scholer. I have revised and updated it somewhat to reflect a few changes in my wife's and my lives in the past four years.
When I joined my then-girlfriend Michelle in enrolling in David Scholer's course, "Women, the Bible, and the Church," I didn't realize that it would end up changing my life.
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that I had never given the matter of whether or not women were allowed to be pastors and ministers a second thought until I was in college. To at least some extent, this is undoubtedly because, as a male, I have had the luxury of never having had my own potential ability to become a church leader challenged. But it’s also due to the fact that, having grown up in the PC(USA), I was accustomed to seeing women in such positions from time to time, if admittedly nothing like as often as I’d seen men in those positions.
But when I went to college, I went to a small Christian school in the mountains of North Carolina, and I soon learned that this was an issue of major controversy among some of the students and professors there. Apparently there’s this passage in 1 Timothy that explicitly prohibits women from such positions of church leadership. Having identified a call to church ministry by this time, I was committed to learning more about the Bible and taking its teachings seriously. This new revelation was a bit disturbing, and I knew that I would have to work at understanding how churches such as the one I’d grown up in could justify what appeared to be gross violations of such teachings, but knew that there must be more to the passage than what appeared at first glance. After all, “she must be silent”? Even at my college, no one really seemed to be arguing for that. Most people were talking instead about church leadership.... And how did these admittedly more conservative believers reconcile Paul’s teaching that he didn’t “permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” with the fact that some of our professors at college were, themselves, women?
Of course, I’m fully aware now that those who argue that God does not permit women to positions of church leadership have answers to questions like these. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I'd become a bit skeptical of more “liberal” denominations such as the PC(USA) while in college, and even when I first came to Fuller to work on my MDiv. But I never was fully convinced by those answers. Something just didn’t seem right about it all.
Several years into my studies, I met Michelle Baker, and we began to date. If anything, it seemed that the church that she attended in high school was even more conservative in regard to their teachings on women in ministry than my college was. But whereas I, being male, had the luxury of taking my time to explore the ramifications of these teachings, Michelle was attacked at her very core. Indeed, to this day she often says that this church “made her into the feminist she is today.” And while I had found myself under the influence of teachers more conservative than those I’d grown up under, Michelle was now in an environment with teachers more progressive than her former leaders, and was desperate to be told that it was okay to be who she was, with the gifts and talents that she believed God had given her.
It was almost a year into our relationship when Michelle enrolled in “Women, the Bible, and the Church.” I was nearly done with my own degree, but being a full-time employee of Fuller, I took advantage of the free audits granted to employees in order to attend the course with her. While in college, I heard quite a bit about why women shouldn't be ordained, but I was anxious to hear how a scholar who believed that women could serve in all forms of church ministry dealt with the biblical texts. Would he just “throw out texts he disagreed with,” as many conservatives seemed to accuse such scholars of doing, or would he be able to explain how certain texts perhaps might not mean what they seemed to at first glance?
This isn’t the place to get into the teachings themselves, but suffice it to say, I came out of the course satisfied that Dr. Scholer did take the teachings of the Bible seriously, and that God was perfectly fine with women serving in leadership positions within the church. I also came out of the course having impressed Michelle, having taken her concerns on this issue seriously.
We happened to be taking the course during the time that David first found out that he had prostate cancer, and the announcement of his condition to the class near the end of the quarter was one of the first times he had "gone public" about it. Immediately after the quarter ended, David went on medical leave to begin a round of chemotherapy designed to eradicate the cancer. Several months later, he returned to his office duties on campus, weakened from the ordeal, but with every reason to believe that the problem had been taken care of. In the meantime, Michelle and I had gotten engaged, and with the assurance that David was feeling better, we asked him to officiate at the wedding, an offer he was happy to accept.
Shortly after we got married, we found out that the doctors had discovered that small amounts of David's cancer remained, and that it was considered "incurable." If the timing had been just a bit different, we probably wouldn't have imposed on David by asking him to officiate a wedding while fighting cancer. I think he would have considered that a loss as much as we would have, and we thank God that the timing worked out like it did.
It is a statement of the obvious to say that David left a legacy felt by many people. Michelle, who served as a TA for David on three separate occasions, has since been ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and joins the legions of women who have been given encouragement and strength to follow their calling into ordained ministry. But on a more personal level, David and his wife Jeannette have left a legacy of friendship. In the six years that David lived following his initial diagnosis, Michelle and I were able to enjoy "hymn-sings" in their home, got to hear many stories of David's experiences in ministry and in academia, and enjoyed talking about other shared interests, such as a mutual love of books. There were hard times, too, such as time spent with David in the hospital during his recovery from surgery roughly a year before his death, a time David himself described as "going through Hell." But when David told us during one such visit that he was not embarrassed for us to see him even at these lowest of times, we knew that we really were accepted as an informal part of the Scholers' extremely large "family" of friends. Even in the midst of such suffering, David gave us an amazing gift. We will always be thankful for that.
This post is the second intended to tie in with "A Week of Mutuality," hosted by Rachel Held Evans this week (the week of June 4-10) at her blog, rachelheldevans.com. You can head to this link to learn more about the project.