Tuesday, June 20, 2006

You Go, Girls

Well, these are exciting times as women are elected to the top leadership positions in their church bodies -- new ECUSA Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (oh, that's fun to type), and Joan Gray, new head of the PCUSA.

Reading the blogs of persons in both these denominations...I just want to jump up and down with you in glee, in spirit if not in person. Well, maybe in person too, if I were in the room with you.

And I did experience a wee bit of wistfulness: Hmmm...wonder when the ELCA will elect a female Presiding Bishop?

I think the first female Lutheran pastor was ordained in one of the Scandinavian countries shortly after World War II, and Constance Parvey became the first Lutheran woman ordained to the pastorate in the U.S. back in the early Seventies -- but before we in the ELCA congratulate ourselves on being so darn progressive, it should be noted that sexism is still alive and well in our church body. Oh, the angry social conservatives have, I think, mostly decamped to other church bodies, which I personally think is the best place for them. But the last statistics I saw showed that the ELCA lags behind other denominations in terms of numbers of female clergy; many ELCA congregations are still loathe to call a female pastor; female seminary graduates often have a harder time finding a job. There's the old "don't rock the boat" argument that, in our circles, often presents itself in a golly-jeepers, forelock-tugging way: Well, gosh, ya know, I don't have a problem wid da lady preachers myself, Ole, but I tink dat if we call a lady preacher some of da others are gonna quit da church.

And lately I've noticed a re-rearing of the ugly head of gilded-cage sexism disguised as an appeal to female superiority and concern over contemporary men's discomfort with taking an active role in churches: The idea that women are much more spiritually evolved, and will always be the more active members of faith communities, whereas men are knuckle-dragging, not-terribly-bright and, to borrow a term from the fundies, hopelessly carnal creatures, Neanderthals whose lives are mostly spent scratching their crotches, emitting bodily noises and mentally undressing the women around them, who are naturally averse to attending church unless there's a good ol' boy up there at the pulpit to reassure them that, no, they're not faggots; that Real Men Go To Church. So, the argument continues, we women, being the spiritually advanced humans that we are, need to humor these poor, dumb beasts by graciously submitting to their authority, and letting them run the show. (Just as a point of interest: I used to be privy to -- long story -- the conversations of a gaggle of fundamentalist women who in public strongly promoted the idea of male headship/female subordination -- this seemed to be, in fact, a major tenet of their church -- but who in private spent most of their time dissing their husbands as clueless, fairly subhuman louts who couldn't think or work their way out of a paper bag without major female assistance, and who also spent a lot of time collectively pondering ways to do end runs around their husbands' supposed household authority. So in the unlikely event that any male social conservatives are reading this: When Wifey is looking up at you shyly with her doe eyes and telling her how happy she is that you are exerting your male headship in your home, my field observations would seem to indicate that she is, in fact, faking it. Which makes one wonder what other times she's f- -- well...don't worry your big, brawny, authoritative head over that.)

So while we can celebrate the lives and ministries of strong, faithful women like Schori and Gray who have been called to service at the highest levels in their churches...it's still a long road to the kind of freedom described in Scripture where "all are one in Christ Jesus."

But...I'm still smiling. You go, girls.


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

I've been told that the seminaries are about half full of women students and women are more than half of the participants at the seminary classes for lay leaders. We do need to encourage an increase in the numbers of both men and women attending seminary.

Our call committee had no problem with being given the names of women to be interviewed here. The council and church members voted unanamously for our woman pastor. But I think that her grace, qualifications and leadership qualities were the deciding factors. And more and more people are attending church.

I've also heard husband dissing, especially when I was much younger. My husband once told me that if I had a problem with him, tell him, not my friends.

But I know and have experienced the pattern you are talking about. The man gets HIS chair, his food, etc. but the woman knows that she is really the true power in the home. Liberal or conservative, Christian or not, this isn't a healthy way to run a home. Mutual respect, accepting complementary talents and strengths, certainly seems more in line with what Paul says about Christ and His church. It seems to me that many people, both the men who only see the dictitorial power of the man in those verses, and the women who only see the outwardly submissiveness in those verses, miss the point for the verses taken in context.

I hope that the women who are elected have the right qualities of leadership needed for the churches and are not voted for just because they are women.

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

You might enjoy this chart. http://www.equalitycentral.com/eca/humor/meaning_of_equality.html

Tom in Ontario said...

First, thanks for humouring me :-)

As for the ELCA, I think Bishop Hanson is eligible for reelection the next time you're choosing a bishop and unless he makes some major faux pas he'll have a pretty good chance of being reelected, don't you think?

In the ELCIC we have only 5 synods and two of the synod bishops are women (elected in 2002 and 2006). In 2001 we were electing a new national bishop (that's what we call our presiding bishop) because the former one was retiring and it came down to a pretty close race between the man who won and a woman.

Last year he was up for reelection and it came down to a contest between him (a liberal) and 2 or 3 more conservative candidates. There were some votes for women on the first couple of ballots but it came down to a few men at the end.

The last time our synod bishop was reelected he was elected with over 75% of the vote on the nominating ballot. It might not be so easy this time around because he's in favour of same-sex blessings.

The first Lutheran woman ordained in Canada was Pamela McGee in 1976. At our 2002 Synod Assembly (where I was ordained) I introduced my children to her, hoping she might be an inspiration to them.

Verdugo said...

fyi: this is not by any means the first female moderator of the PCUSA... In fact, I was a bit surprised by the media fuss (I guess because of the related ECUSA story), since it's quite commonplace for us now.

I too have observed that the female halves of these "male headship" partnerships almost always find some subversive means of getting their way. Back in the 80s, Marabel Morgan wrote a whole book telling women how to con and conive and finagle their way Lucy-and-Ricky style to get their way while still remaining that sweet, submissive, butter-couldn't-melt-in-my-mouth thing. More recently, there was that hilarious scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mom and aunt figure out how to make the dad think their plan was all his idea and he was helping out these poor, helpless women.

Very amusing on the big screen or a dime-store self-help book bound to end up on the remainder rack. But in real life I too prefer a more honest and straightforward approach and let the chips fall where they may.

Sister Mary Hasta said...

Amen, sister, amen.

And awwww, I wanna be a hopelessly carnal creature! Stupid genetics, making me a girl, so I can't appreciate sights, scents, sounds, sensations, and tastes. Because, of course, God didn't create such things for us to enjoy, but to shun mightily! FLEE! FLEE FROM JOY!

Pardon me, too much coffee, I think my sarcastic font is showing again.

Mata H said...

Actually the first woman pastor in any North American Lutheran church was Elizabeth Platz, ordained in 1970, who still serves as Campus Pastor at the U of Maryland.

I remember the day well. I cried tears of joy.

LutheranChik said...

Tom, I know that you would never scratch, gaseously effluviate or think naughty thoughts about any of us.;-) Oh, I'm not displeased with our current Presiding Bishop...just thinking into the future.

P. Softly: Thanks for the link, and your husband's wise advice. I think we'd all rather take our partners' honest, corrective medicine, no matter how difficult, than be trash-talked about behind our backs.

Verdugo: Yes, it's ironic, isn't it, how the supposedly "moral majority" critiquing the morality of the rest of us don't seem to consider honesty and transparency in their personal relationships a virtue. Funny, that.

Sister Mary: Honey, I want to join your order.

Mata H: Yes; I should have known that. Fellow reader Connie informed me of that, and of Barbara Andrews being the first female pastor in the ALC shortly thereafter, in 1970, and of April Ulring Larson being our first female ELCA bishop.

Sophia said...

LC - I LOVE this post. You pretty much nailed everything - from "gilded cage" sexism to fake fundi wives and everything in between. Awesome.

SingingOwl said...

Amen and amen. I'm dancing right alongside you!

A strange thing which I am pondering--The Assemblies of God had women preachers from their earliest days. We still ordain women. To begin with, about 45% of the ministers were female. That was 92 years ago. Ninety two!

What happened?

I am one of a tiny handful of women pastors. There are no women who serve as presbyters at the sectional or state level, much less holding office of a national nature. Dr. Debbie Gill serves as our national director of evangelism and discipleship...a post she fills with distinction. But we are so far from electing a General Supt. that is female...impossible. And yet, we've had women pastoring for almost 100 years.

Maybe I should blog about this mystery?

Tom in Ontario said...


You think much too highly of me.

Lorna said...

laughing and feeling guilty about it ... go figure

Hope you're doing ok?