This post was originally published on this blog in September 2016. I kept thinking about it as I clicked more and more links about the “go home” debacle between Beth Moore and John MacArthur.
As a woman who preaches, I am deeply grateful for the support of male colleagues like Kyle.
I thought others might find Kyle’s humble and helpful words helpful once again, during this moment of renewed conversation about clergy women.
Like many Reformed Christians, I have been supportive of women in ecclesiastical office for as long as I can remember. I have heard and reheard the Scriptural case against it and I understand that there are a handful of discrete passages that would seem to prohibit female leadership. The more I have studied it, however, the more convinced I am that to read these texts in this way is to miss the larger canonical forest for the proof-texted trees—a forest defined not by spiritual stinginess and fenced pulpits, but by expansive grace and reconciled relationships. With the fullness of this Scriptural forest in view, the arguments against women in our church pulpits have always felt unconvincing; too flimsy to hold up the systems that exclude half of the covenant community from following their calls into ministry, from proclaiming the Word and holding out the Sacraments, and from exercising leadership in the Church.
And like most male Reformed Christians, I have kept this conviction largely to myself, explaining away my silence by convincing myself that there are others with more authority who should speak instead; others with more knowledge and expertise than me whose voices would be better for the cause. I’ve recently been convicted, however, that this rationalization is not unique to me. In fact, it is the story that most of us with the privilege to do so tell ourselves in order to protect ourselves; in order to keep from putting any real skin in the game.
So at the risk of losing my privilege of silence, what follows is an attempt to articulate why it is that I not only support women in our ecclesiastical offices and in our pulpits, but why I absolutely need them there.
They read and experience Scripture differently than me
One of the most beautiful things about Scripture is that it is infinitely rich and complex. People have dedicated their entire lives to it and the Church has been mining its depths for going on two millennia now, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what Scripture has to offer us. Why then, would we want to limit the number of voices at the interpretive table? Why would we want to limit the life experience, the perspectives, and the interpretive lenses that we as the church bring to bear on Scripture? Why would we want to limit the number of voices proclaiming God’s Word from our pulpits–each one shaped by unique experiences and with the power to illuminate the blind spots of others?
When we decide to refuse God’s gift of diverse exegesis and proclamation of his Word, we refuse to see the fullness of its beauty, its challenge, and its power for our lives and for the life of the world. The predictable result of limiting access to our pulpits is a limited proclamation of the gospel, riddled with blind spots and assumptions that we do not have the tools to see, much less analyze and deconstruct. When there is diversity in the pulpit, a more faithful and fully-orbed gospel is proclaimed in our churches.
It is an issue of justice
When we talk about “women in office” or the issue of whether women should be permitted to preach, it is easy to believe that it can be approached, analyzed, and debated as a purely ecclesial issue. That is to say, that it is an intra-church discussion and can be discussed as such. This position, however, betrays a misunderstanding about how the church exists in the world, and a naïveté about how power is exercised inside and outside the church. The Church, and those political animals that Aristotle called people who make up the Church, exists within a web of cultural, political, and social realities. This means that our discussions—even ones that we think are clearly “intra-church”—are indelibly shaped by the cultural and social forces of our broader world. Conversations about the role of women in preaching and in leading the church, then, cannot be separated from the deeper systemic forces of sexism and misogyny that are always already operating in our societies. No matter how hard we try, we cannot separate the fencing of the pulpit to women from the deeper cultural forces of marginalization which seek to fence women off in myriad other social and political ways as well.
I need female preachers because the alternative means that my church and I have been complicit in cultural systems of oppression and injustice. Systems that the church is called not to embrace, however unconsciously, but to expose and root out. By denying women access to the pulpit, the church is unwittingly colluding with the very forces of evil and injustice that its Savior died to undo.
My future daughters and sons need to see women in the pulpit
My wife and I don’t have kids yet, but we absolutely love them. Lord willing, we will have some in the future. When and if we do, they need to see women in the pulpit. My daughters need to see a woman living into her vocational call and leading the church of Christ. My sons need to have the cultural narrative of male supremacy and female disempowerment debunked in a variety of places, but especially in the church. If the church cannot give both my future sons and daughters the tools to question and oppose cultural systems of oppression, then it will have failed them.
I was 18 before I heard a woman preach for the first time. All I remember about the entire sermon was how I felt: utterly and completely anxious. I could assent intellectually to the proposition that a woman could, and even should, preach, but my body had never practiced it. My ears had never heard the gospel proclaimed in a register that high; my eyes had never seen a female body preach. It took years for my body to catch up with my mind and to finally be at ease receiving the proclaimed Word from a female mouth. I don’t want my children’s bodies to have to unlearn the way that mine did. My future children–daughters and sons–need female preachers in the pulpit.
When I sat down to write this, I had a moment of self-doubt. After all, I don’t consider myself a shining example of activism on the issue of women in office in general, and women in the pulpit in particular. I wholeheartedly support women in the pulpit and believe that their voices are not only welcome, but necessary, for the health and vitality of the Church. But I’ve largely kept these convictions to myself. I kept them to myself because I could. I kept them to myself because I never had the experience of someone I love questioning my call to ministry simply because of my gender. I kept them to myself because I never walked into a classroom at the seminary I attended and wondered how many of my classmates believed that I belonged there; that I could truly be their peer. I kept it to myself because, as a male in the Church, I could.
I have become convinced, however, that I can keep my silence no more. No more silence while my sisters in Christ continue to have their calls questioned and their vocations narrowed. No more colluding with systems of sexism and misogyny baptized to look like complementarianism or an honest difference of exegetical opinion. No more hiding behind my male privilege in order to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. No more missing out on the joy of partnering with my sisters in Christ in proclaiming the Word of our liberating and empowering God.
No more hiding. My skin is officially in the game. This issue is too important, the stakes are too high, and the gospel of justice and liberation demands too much to do anything else.
Marvelous. I kept silent because I could. And the point about your body having to join up with your conviction, and sparing our children that.
Thank you. As I approach the 40th anniversary of my ordination as Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA, I am both sad and amazed that we still have to have this conversation. At the same time, I’m deeply grateful for people who are speaking up as did so many 40-plus years ago.
When the CRC was going to vote on the inclusion of women as pastors my father, Hubert Borduin was sent from his classis in NJ to vote to keep the church pure. In other words, he was to vote this down. However, as he listened to an African American women preach, he said, that the Spirit was working with in him. He could not vote to stop this movement. He vote for women knowing he would have to explain. From that moment on, his life was divided to before Synod and after Synod. Our family was to honored to have his very last public appearance at the ordination of my sister only a few weeks before he passed. Telling the story still moves me with thanksgiving to a man who was willing to be awake and hear the spirit. I am so proud of him.
Thank you Beverly for this wonderful story about your father and that he was able to witness your sister’s ordination. Beautiful!
My wife, Rev. Dr. Pamela Pater-Ennis, has now celebrated her 35th anniversary of ordination. I very much appreciate this blog on behalf of her, and all women ordained to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament.
I may be missing something here. Wasn’t this issue of women in office settled years ago? Are we beating a dead horse here? Today, in the CRC, churches that want women preachers are welcome to have them. And churches that would rather not have women in the pulpit can decline the opportunity. And increasingly, the number of churches that do favor women pastors is on the rise. Reading this article makes me think that those in favor of female ministers want all churches to agree with their understanding. They want this shift of leadership to happen overnight. But face it, issues like this, take more than a few years to gain acceptance, it takes generations. If I were you Kyle, I’d sit back and enjoy the fact that our denomination has sided with you, without forcing all churches into compliance. You can enjoy the momentum that favors female pastors and leaders in our churches. What are you attempting with this article, are you forcing the issue? We have enough current issues that are divisive. Why bring up old and settled ones?
Several denominations have been ordaining women for 50-60 years (UMC, ELCA etc.) and yet there is still opposition to women as preachers in those places. How many generations should it take? How many women should be discouraged before the church embraces the gifts of all God’s children?
I would point out that Kate Kooyman re-posted Kyle’s words from 13 years ago. This is not a contemporary work of Kyle’s, though I’m sure he doesn’t mind that it was re-posted in light of the current climate in some church circles (I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I read Kate’s introduction to the post). At any rate, you may be right about the broader Reformed Church, but I would suggest that the argument between Moore and MacArthur represents an ongoing work of complementarians to move the church back, and that movement continues in denominations still today. As a white man, I don’t always feel it, because I’m privileged to not have to deal with it, but I think what Kyle’s piece was trying to say (back in 2006) is that we are called to use our privilege at all times rather than remain silent, working for justice and the kingdom of God in our lives, the church, and the world.
It was actually 3 years ago, not 13.
To me the greatest offense of MacArthur was comparing Beth Moore to Paula White which is about like comparing MacArthur to Joel Osteen since they are both men who preach at large churches.
I have come to respect thoughtful theologians on both sides of the issue. The Egalitarians lose me when they sound too much like secular Feminists (“Justice” for Christians comes from God not our sense of fairness). The Complementarians, otoh, often, more than they would admit, fall into secular ideologies of their own. While I respect much of John Piper’s work for example, I am convinced that his engagement with Ayn Rand has as much to do with his views on the role of women as any straight forward reading of Scripture.
As with most issues, I would hope any church struggling would take a humble look at Scripture as well as the perspectives of the historical and global church in understanding the relevant texts.
I think there are a few areas of this article that are worthy of a little pushback.
1. Kyle uses a rhetorical strategy similar to proponents of full acceptance of homosexuality with his use of the phrase “handful of discrete passages” (think: “clobber passages”). Discrete being defined as “individually separate and distinct”, this does not properly describe the passages in question and how they inform complementarian though within the context of scripture. Rather than simple consideration of separate and distinct passages, complementarian thought is informed by a full-orbed reading of scripture. Disagreeing with this understanding is one thing; mischaracterizing it is another.
2. Kyle’s ostensible defense of women is actually a double-edged sword. As it turns out, there are a multitude of women who don’t agree with Kyle. But Kyle doesn’t seem to want to allow room for principled disagreement. Rather, those who disagree are guilty of supporting and taking part in “systems of sexism and misogyny baptized to look like complementarianism or an honest difference of exegetical opinion”. So, my wife is a misogynist. Who knew? The conclusion Kyle states here leaves three not very flattering options for women who disagree with Kyle.
a. These women have internalized hatred and are closeted misogynists.
b. These women are so dimwitted so as not understand.
c. These women are so weak as to be ruled by their misogynistic husbands.
3. Kyle’s argument about the necessity of women in the pulpit is painfully reductionistic. Leadership and teaching is reduced to time in the pulpit? Somehow, I’ve been imbued with the Word of God through my grandmothers, my mother, my wife, my sister, my daughter, my daughters-in-law, and a host of other Christian women without a one of them ever delivering so much as a homily. It’s almost as if these women have embraced and put into practice God’s design for how they are to work and serve in the family and church.
4. With Kyle’s soaring and grandiose rhetoric in the last paragraph, one wonders a bit how much Kyle has done to end what he deems to be a grave injustice. As best I can tell, Kyle (subsequent to this article originally being published) pursued and achieved ordination in the CRC in 2017. I have not since then seen any overtures from Kyle to stop the CRC from “colluding with the very forces of evil”. Seemingly this would be an important thing. Kyle says he now has “skin in the game”, but if the extent of his skin in the game is to write an article from a progressive point of view for publication on a progressive blog, then skin in the game isn’t as meaningful as I once was brought to believe.
Also worth mentioning is the inherent patronization displayed by Kyle toward the church of the global south, with is overwhelmingly complementarian in belief and practice. North American white progressives will lead their ignorant brown and black sisters and brothers into the light?
Thank you for this Kyle. I recall the way my sister, the late Rev. Barbara Pekich, was treated in seminary in the early 1990s by a few of her male counterparts…who questioned her right to be there.
Years later I proudly watched my niece, the Rev. Edie Lenz be ordained, as well as her brother Bill, and his wife, Sara into the RCA; and my nephew Rob’s wife, Katrina, as she was ordained in the Presbyterian Church.
As an ordained Elder I have the honor of serving as liturgist in my own church along with other gifted women and men. How sad it would be if our voices were silenced because of our sex.