Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Whose Will Is It, Anyway?

One of the things that really irks me is when I occasionally read a pro-patriarchy author claiming that female clergy enter representative ministry (they rarely use those words, but that's what they mean) because they "want to." I wouldn't be surprised if I conducted a poll of clergy, male and female, if those who became clergy because they "wanted to" was as low as five to ten percent. I understand that a few people do; generally they're relatively young, "look the part" (you probably know what I mean there; let me know if you can't figure it out), are bright enough to make it through the years of education, and may even become quite good at it. And when God is merciful (to said "want to" types and to their congregations), that wrong-headed reason gets transformed into a deeper, genuine response to God's will.

But as for the other estimated 90 - 95 percent, like their "want-to" counterparts, they go through some period of discernment, some degree of mandated study, some degree of denominational scrutiny, some kind of endorsement, and of course, a long period of educational preparation. Somewhere in the midst of all that, they probably get to the point where they truly want to be clergy, but part of the conflict for them is that they want to serve God and people more than they specifically want to be clergy.

I'm blessed to be United Methodist, a tradition in which we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women. There's almost no comparison between the difficulties that first and second generation of women faced and the relative freedom female candidates now have to explore, test, and answer vocations to ordained ministry. But probably a majority of even United Methodist lay people would still probably say that a "typical" pastor is a man, especially here in the Bible Belt, where most other denominations are pro-patriarchal (in my geographical area, even the Episcopal diocese does not ordain women as priests, though they will permit them to step over to the neighboring diocese that does--how gracious!).

This is to say that I suspect that very few women simply "want to" be ordained ministers. I've never met one who said that the starting point. To a woman (and for men I know personally, to a man), it is a matter of God's will, not theirs. Saying yes is costly in every way: financially, to one's family, to one's previous plans and dreams, and to one's sense of self-determination. That's mostly a good thing, though I understand from my married clergy friends--especially those with children--it can be a very difficult learning curve to strike the right balance of serving family while serving the church. Saying "yes" to God's will means being reduced to one's fundamental identity--child of God--and allowing God to rebuild and equip one as God sees fit, because no sane person ever believes he or she is capable as is to be an effective pastor. That's why "because I want to" is not a sufficient reason to be ordained. Those traditions with stringent examination of their candidates will weed out those for whom that is the only reason--or they should!

While it might help bolster the incorrect interpretation of pro-patriarchy types to claim falsely that female clergy are in violation of 1 Tim.2:11-12 and other out-of-context verses for them to believe such women simply "want to" be pastors, they're just engaging in further invention. The problem is that GOD wants them to do so. As so many pro-patriarchy people have said to egalitarians on several equality-related issues, "Your gripe isn't with me, it's with God." That's a snotty thing to say, yes. But that's the heart of it here. The call originates with God. It's a weighty matter to dismiss that fact so lightly. You might think all these women are mistaken, but God must still be obeyed. Come to think of it, anti-female clergy types refuse to be a part of female clergy-led congregations anyway, so it's a really cheap opinion to hold. Let your wife, or your daughter, or you yourself (whether male or female) have to truly wrestle with a call from God and be told by fellow mortals that you're disqualified because you're female (or male), and you'll begin to understand the cost and why women aren't resigning wholesale on the basis of your disagreement with their callings. God's call is going to trump your opinion every day of the week.


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

As the mother of someone in the process of studying for the ministry (four years of study already, and one more year of work to go before her denomination will send her to a church)I know that one doesn't go into it because of money or status, but because of a true calling that must be recognized by other people, not just by the candidate.

The good pastor will always be at the service of the church even as that person leads. And will be expected to be all things to all people.

I personally don't understand the tradition of some branches of the church where a person can just declare him (yes, mostly HIM) a pastor and go and found a church. Or a TV ministry, or whatever. And often rake in the money.

No money to be raked in if a person, man or woman, serves in a denominational church. That a person stays in the ministry, goes where he/she is called, should say something.

SingingOwl said...

GREAT POST! I'm going to link to it.