I'm A Blessed Little Unicorn!

I'm a rarely seen species: a woman in theology who has no sad stories to tell you about being harassed, roadblocked, or discriminated against by others who thought she was stepping beyond her place. I've spent ten years in formal study of theology, but no one has ever made a snide remark about my gender. I've spent three years in professional ministry and never had anyone oppose my work, my preaching, or my spiritual life because I was a woman-pastor or woman-chaplain or woman-evangelist.

I hear the stories of my female colleagues and I wince. They've been teased, told outright to change their majors, marginalized in meetings, scoffed at, refused entrance into educational programs, even ignored in their own parishes. I admire their perseverance in service in the face of such painful and discouraging opposition. But I can't relate. 

This could be in part because I just haven't observed the discrimination. Perhaps decisions were made about me or sneers were sneered at me that I never knew about, and I went on theologizing and ministering in blissful ignorance.

I also need to acknowledge that my own optimism about people expects them to be friendly and reasonable and helpful, and this probably blinds me to some people's cautiousness or perhaps even hostility to me as a woman in ministry. (Actually, I know this has happened. Months after I left the Ministerial Department of Oregon Conference I realized that this one active lay leader kept asking me to make copies because he thought I was an administrative assistant. I thought he was too old to know how to work the copier!)

Honestly, I'm happy to be ignorant in these ways, not seeing when others have some unfounded gripe against me. 

But some of the other reasons that I think I've received such an unusually warm reception in theology and ministry don't sit as well with me. I have a complicated relationship with them. 

I wonder if I've been embraced by the people in my circles because I'm a safe person who doesn't challenge their paradigm. Perhaps I benefit from the system because I don't threaten its parameters.

In my physical appearance I have the advantage of being just "feminine" enough. I'm petite and sprightly, just about the opposite of someone you might picture trying to usurp authority. I've got some hips on me, but my chest is small and people might call me "cute," but never "sexy." (Sexiness is a terrible attribute to have as a Christian woman. Christians have an awful time with women's sexuality.) Also, I'm white. I'm like Tinker Bell, but more modestly dressed. Not at all threatening. 

In my disposition, I have the advantage of being just "masculine" enough. I err on the side of the logical. I'm confident, not cowering. I'm a problem-solver, not a natural empathizer. I, like many women (even a disproportionate number of women) who make it into academic theology, feel more naturally at home with my many guy friends than my few girl friends. Sometimes it can feel that I'm accepted in my guild as an "exceptional" woman, not like those typical, lesser women. 

So I think about myself and wonder how I feel about these advantages, the tiny ribcage and the emotionally quiet mind and all the others. It seems I wouldn't be where I am today without them. Have they blessed me or betrayed my kind? Should I thank them for giving me an advantage or resent them for supporting the system that gives others disadvantages? 

Maybe there's no finding out the "should." Maybe I need just to accept that they did some dirty work for me.



Women in Ministry: not our rights, but His

In the conversations surrounding ordination and specifically the ordination of women to gospel ministry, many things need improvement, chief among them our lack of charity toward one another as sisters and brothers in Christ, members of the same Body. Today, though, I want to address what I see as the primary defect in the argument in favor of women's ordination

Many of the voices advocating for women in ministry, women in church leadership, and/or women's ordination are shouting in the key of feminism, overwhelming questions of Scripture and tradition with objections about RIGHTS and EQUALITY and FREEDOM. This is a fundamentally flawed posture toward ministry. Certainly, concerns about rights and equality and freedom have their places, but, equally as certain, their place is not at the front of an argument about ministry. 

We church-y people seem to have forgotten what "ministry" means. It literally means service. It is the servant's task to minister. The most basic idea about ministry is that it is not a right. One more time, to let it sink in: Ministry is not a right. More than that, gospel ministry is a calling, so that those who have received the call are compelled to fulfill it. As the apostle Paul says, 

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, because I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I were preaching voluntarily, I would deserve a reward; but if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
— 1 Corinthians 9:16-17

Paul did not have a right to be an apostle, though he was one. He was an apostle by virtue of his calling. (Note–of course!–that it was this apostolic calling that afforded him certain rights as an apostle. Read both of the Corinthian letters to see this fully developed, but look especially at 1 Cor 9).  Paul did not have a right to preach, he had a commission to preach! This commission meant suffering, it meant financial and material loss, it meant the loss of friends, it meant repeated prayers that he would be bold in this intimidating task (Eph 6:19-20). 

Those who advocate for full and equal participation in gospel ministry for both women and men are missing the point if they think that this is an issue of women's rights in the same way that equal pay and freedom from sexual harassment is an issue of equal rights. This is a misguided idea because, again, ministry is not a right. It is a calling. The language of "rights" rings hollow and worldly when we are talking about picking up the mantle of service. 

We need to be be far, far less worried about women's rights in this discussion, and far, far more concerned with the right of the Holy Spirit to call, compel, and commission whom He will. 

the Spirit moves wherever He pleases (John 3:8)

Those who oppose women in church leadership are very happy to cast the entire question as an outgrowth of secular feminism. There was, you may remember, an in/famous sermon on this topic by an influential Adventist preacher in which he spent several minutes talking about the feminism of mid-century and pinpointed it as the source of this question. Of course, this is a red herring, as the issue of women in church leadership goes waaaaaaayyyyyy earlier than that. The Adventist church was talking about it in the 1880s and it had nothing to do with voting rights or bra burnings. (Discrediting the cause by linking it to 1970s feminism is also a genetic fallacy, but few people seem to care about that either.)

The question is not about who has the right to choose ministry for themselves. The question is about God's right to choose whom He will. 

This post is not a close examination of the biblical texts under dispute, nor a scrutiny of history for clues about the permissibility of women in ministry, women in church leadership, or women's ordination to gospel ministry. Those are very worthy investigations and I have done them myself. From that study and in prayer I have come to the conclusion that spiritual gifts (among them apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring and teaching [Eph 4:11]) are not given on the basis of gender, but as the Spirit wills (1 Cor 12:11), and that spiritual gifts and calling are given on the basis of our shared participation in Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13); this shared participation, this being "in Christ," means "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus... heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:28-29)

Therefore, it is my view that the Holy Spirit may call some women into leadership among His people (Miriam, Deborah). He may call some women to instruct men in the gospel (Priscilla). He may call some women to be prophets (Huldah, Anna, Phillip's daughters). He may call some women to be apostles (Junia). And it is His right to do so.

Recognizing the Holy Spirit-ordination of women into the gospel ministry with full ecclesial authorization (what we currently call "ordination") is important because to reject, de-legitmate, or neglect His movement is an affront to the Spirit's authority and to His right to do with us whatever He wants. If He wants to give a frail 17-year-old a vision for the little flock, we should honor His right to do so, and pay attention! If He wants to use two young upstarts to bring the truth of justification by faith in 1888, we should recognize His full right and authority to do so, and pay attention! If He chooses a woman to preach the gospel, to lead a congregation, to instruct youth in the Scriptures, to disciple, to represent His redemption drama in their lives–well, we better say Yes to His decision. Ellen White didn't have a right to become a prophet. Jones and Waggoner didn't have a right to preach the message of justification by faith. And nobody in the world has a right to shepherd God's people and represent His remnant church.

But we all have a holy obligation to recognize the Spirit's right to anoint His sons and His daughters.

Make No Image

I've been concerned about the "masculinity" of God. Why does God call "Himself" a "He"? Doesn't it seem that by identifying Godself with the "He" then the "he" is elevated above the "she"? Doesn't it seem that if the divine is masculine, then masculinity is divinized? and femininity is marginalized, made the "other"? A glaring part of the world's brokenness is that it is thoroughly androcentric (1), and a male god seems to be a part of this same damaged and damaging pattern.

So, again, why? Why does God use masculine pronouns? Here's what I'm learning:

>> God's biggest problem: how to fit the bigness of divine reality into the smallness of human understanding, but
>> All's grace.

God as Person

I think God uses a gendered pronoun because God is a Person, and the only persons we know are he or she---no "it." God is very concerned that we know God personally.

And if in Scripture God switched between He and She, wouldn't we idol-makers have taken that as an excuse for polytheism? Or an exploitative sexualized spirituality? 'Cuz we're like that. And that was already the pattern of religiosity in the Ancient Near East, where God gathered a people and instructed them in worship. (2)

I even find that using the language of God/Godself leads me to conceptualize God as just those letters: G - O - D. Less personal, more alphabetic. I would rather know God as a personal He than as an impersonal It, a hazy force, a fog-like power, or even a string of letters.

The Limits & Necessity of Metaphorical Language

Metaphorical language (3) only gets us so far. To employ a metaphor is to say that something IS and IS NOT like the object to which you are comparing it. For instance, to say, "The road was a ribbon of asphalt in the desert" is to say that the road IS LIKE a ribbon in that it is long and thin and somewhat beautiful and gently twists and turns. But in that the road is not an actual ribbon, it IS NOT LIKE a ribbon in that it is not made of fabric, it does not come on a spool, it is not used to adorn textiles. So the road IS LIKE and IS NOT LIKE a ribbon.

Our language is saturated with metaphors; it is native to the way we think. "Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature." (4) 

So our religious language and the inspired language of Scripture itself is woven in the fabric of metaphors. Our God is a consuming fire. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. Christ is the Head of the church. And Adam knew Eve (wink, wink). Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel! May our cries come before You...! Speaking and thinking like this is so natural for us that we often don't even notice that our language is metaphorical at all.

So metaphorical language is necessary. We cannot speak or even think without metaphors. In communicating with us, there is no way that God could have said anything about Godself without using metaphors, likening God to what is not like God. And if we try to speak of God WITHOUT metaphor, we end up with something that's more like an Excel sheet of abstract attributes than a description of a living, acting, feeling, thinking Person. It wouldn't mean as much to me to know that a Supreme List were hearing my prayers.

Make No Image

"You shall have no other gods before me."

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..." (Exodus 20:3-5a) 

Those are excerpts from commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten Commandments. For a long time I thought it was kind of redundant. "Don't worship other gods" and "Don't make idols" sounded like the same thing to me. Now I see it differently. God is not only forbidding the worship of other so-called deities (in commandment 1), but God is also forbidding the making of images of the true God (commandment 2). Remember that whole golden calf incident? They made a calf out of gold and then worshiped it, not calling it Baal or Zeus or Thor, but calling it "your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." The God that sent the plagues and parted the Sea and gathered you here? Behold! Here she is in all her shiny glory! (And they were actually impressed.)

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis,  A Grief Observed

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

God uses metaphors (and similes too) to talk about Godself. God uses metaphor to say that God is a consuming fire---but we aren't to elevate fire as better than wind or grass or clouds, we aren't to worship a flame. God uses metaphor to say that God is a horn---but we aren't to elevate horns as better than teeth or toes, we aren't to worship horns. And yes, God uses metaphor to say that God is He---but we aren't to elevate he as better than she, or (God forbid!) think that God is male.

  • God is not male. God is suprasexual (that is, above gender, greater than and encompassing gender.)
  • God created both male and female to bear God's image and likeness. (Gen 1)
  • Eve is as much in the image of God as is Adam. She is not "other," nor are any of her daughters. 

Oh, the world went dark so quickly! The gates of Paradise were closed and we find ourselves outside of Eden, living in the shattered world of broken relationships and confused thinking. And in this world we live by the code of bias and enemy, of hierarchy and "others," of suspicion and power struggle. So we have gender oppression and real inequalities and a temptation to think that God shares our wicked preferences. 

But the Gospel? The Gospel says, 

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

(Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)


(1) "Thus androcentricism can be understood as a societal fixation on masculinity whereby all things originate. Under androcentrism, masculinity is normative and all things outside of masculinity are defined as 'other.'" Thank you, Wikipedia.

(2) Polytheism and sexualized worship were common in the nations that surrounded Israel, and unfortunately, as Israel departed from the instruction of God, became part of their worship too. Human beings were thought of as the spawn of divine soap operas, heterosexual and homosexual unions were part of the temple worship, and some rites were meant as human pornography so that the gods would be stimulated to have sex and provide for the earth.

(3)English refresher: A simile is a comparison of two things using "like" or "as." (He stood like a statue. She gathered her dolls like a doting mother.) A metaphor is a comparison that does not use those comparative words, "like" and "as." (She was a whirlwind, packing the house with an almost violent energy. I've been starved for attention lately.) 

(4) http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/01/metaphors/

God Eats Mashed Potatoes With a Fork

God is an old white man in the sky >> 

I'm sure you'd disagree. And so would I. And so would everyone (including Gungor), at least out loud. 

But in the quiet unspoken parts of our thinking, would we be nodding a little? Would we be murmuring about God liking suits and ties so much because suits and ties are more Godlike? Might we maybe be unthinkingly thinking that God is not male or female---"but He's definitely more male than female"? Or that God is neither White nor Black---"but He's kinda more White than Black"? 

Honestly, do you more easily picture God eating mashed potatoes with a sturdy American fork or egg noodle soup with a flat-bottomed soup spoon? Do you more easily imagine God constructing a rough-hewn fireplace or a cross-stictching a lovely rose image? 

God made us in God's image, 
but we were not satisfied. 
So we made God into ours.