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.

What to Wear When Riding a Stuffed Giraffe: Suit Jacket or No?

Confession time: I'm afraid to become a professional pastor.

Not that I'm afraid of full-time ministry.

Not that I'm afraid of getting paid for it.

Not that I'm afraid to devote my life to it.

Just that I'm afraid of becoming a professional, an image, a brand. 

I don't want to drive a car that says "PASTOR" on the license plate. And I don't want my email address to be PastorKessiaReyne@knee-mail.net. And I don't want to be a ministry idea machine with a weekly newsletter. And I don't want my blogs to become a series of polished press releases. And I don't want to become an Adventist celebrity. I don't want to be anything else except 

 a person 

 following Jesus 

 in the world. 

I've come to realize that my discipling (formal and informal pastoring) has its source in my experience with Jesus. 

>>My experience

with Jesus

means that I'm not enough and never will be. Without Him, I'm a cistern, a broken cistern, and I have no water for the spiritually thirsty. But also


My experience

with Jesus means that my discipling comes through my personality, it is informed by my life, it is made up of the data of my senses, it is woven into my character, it comes out in my language. 

So when I counsel and pray and explain and defend and preach and confront and write and persuade and question: it's


doing it, not some Internet personality with a suit jacket on. Ask me about theodicy and I'll tell you a story. Offer me the pulpit and I'll preach to each person as intimately as possible. Give me your hurts and I'll be silent for a long time; like, an awkward amount of time. Invite me to dinner and I'll come with eyeliner on (not bells, for the record). Because that, my homies, is how I roll. 

*[I think this has to do with my fear of losing my identity in other people's expectations. Jeans at church. Eyeshadow. Feminist poetry. Post-hardcore praise. (Is that what makes me, me?) (What does it mean to be authentic?)]

** [It probably doesn't sound like it, but the intention of this post is not to judge "professional" ministers. These musings are just the outgrowth of my own reflection on how and why my personal style of ministry looks different from many other people's style. God uses those "professional" pastors in ways that are powerful and that, honestly, I don't even aspire to.]