A number of things have gotten me thinking about women lately. No, not in THAT way. (Not exactly my team, sorry ladies.) In particular I’m talking about women as leaders. There are some things that have sparked those thoughts, one of course being Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House and the fairly good chance she could actually win. Second, it was recently International Women’s Day. Then there’s the loathsome example of a certain Republican candidate whose name I will not utter here but which rhymes with “Dump,” as in a really big one. (No, I don’t mean his . . . hand.)
Anyway, this blog isn’t supposed to be focused on politics. (I might do another one, though, that is. Stay tuned.) A couple of things in the religious sphere also got me thinking. First, I came across this article on Religion News Service (via the blog PrayTell) about a series of essays in L’Osservatore Romano calling for the Roman Catholic Church to allow women to preach a homily at Mass. Second, I recently listened to episode #35 on the Easter People podcast, “What we’ve learned from the women in our lives.” So what have I learned from women? In short, not everything but pretty close.
Women teaching, women leading. What’s the big deal? I mean, it is a big deal of course given the world we live in. What I don’t understand is why it has to be a big deal and why so many people have problems with it. Seriously, I just do not understand, nor can I really comprehend why there could be something wrong with it. When I look back on my life, I clearly see women being the major formative influences on me. Men have been too, especially my father, but women have had an even greater role.
I remember one time time when I was little (3, maybe 4), and I wanted to be a doctor. A friend of mine, Robin, said she wanted to be a doctor too. Well, I said, “Girls can’t be doctors. I’ll be the doctor. You’ll be the nurse.” Oooh boy, did I catch hell for that one. Mama made it VERY clear that girls can do anything they want. I’ve never forgotten that.
Plus, the vast majority of my teachers have been women, all the way from preschool to graduate school. Except for a music teacher in elementary school (and not counting coaches), I don’t think I had a male teacher until 8th grade. In fact, the two people who had the most impact on me academically were both women — Diann Arinder, an English teacher I had in 9th and 11th grades, and the Rev. Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller, one of my liturgy professors at seminary and a member of my thesis committee. They weren’t just teachers; they were also mentors. While not teachers or professors, two others who taught me an amazing amount about the Christian journey were the Rev. Nancy Baxter, the Episcopal chaplain when I was in college at Emory, and the Rev. (now Rt. Rev.) Nedi Rivera, the rector at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco when I did field education there. [Mind you, neither one of them taught me as much as Mama did and her deep Methodist roots.]
Speaking of women who are priests, one of things I’ve never been able to understand is the opposition to women in ordained ministry. I’ve been around ordained women my whole life. I’ve got a Methodist minister uncle who was married to another Methodist minister. One of their daughters is also minister. There were women who were ministers at the churches I grew up in. Most of the Episcopal priests whom I’ve known or who’ve been pastors to me or whom I’ve worked for have been women. To paraphrase some 19th century person (I’m not exactly sure who), “Do I believe in women being ordained? Hell — I’ve seen it!”
The idea that a woman cannot participate in ordained ministry (or really any sort of ministry) is absolutely nonsensical to me. I do not, I WILL NOT accept that. I can’t accept it biblically or theologically. A woman shouldn’t preach the Good News? I think Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, probably trumps what Paul said in that regard (or pseudo-Paul in some places). Many point to tradition. If you limit it to official, institutional tradition, sure; but the larger living tradition shows countless examples of women preaching and teaching, leading and pastoring. I can’t accept the opposition based on reason. I can’t accept that my experience of women in ordained ministerial leadership has been wrong.
Just to cap off all of that, I’ll tell you something else that seals my unwavering support. I have seen it on the faces of women who were told growing up that their place was in the home catering to the needs of their husbands. Instead, they see a woman in her place behind the pulpit and behind the altar, fully a priest and fully a woman. And I have seen it in the faces of young girls seeing a woman there, in the light in their eyes saying, “I can be anything I want.”