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Women in the Pulpit: Praise Be

by Barry Henderson

So the question, "Why do the pious rage?" continues to be answered by the elders of a few fundamentalist Christian denominations. The answer is that women are being allowed to serve as church pastors and to enter the pulpit and sermonize in violation of God's intent.

That openly misogynist position, shared by a variety of faiths, has lately been voted upon by the Southern Baptist Convention, whose members reversed an earlier, more lenient, statement allowing that women could be preachers. Individual congregations of Southern Baptists can still opt in favor of a woman pastor, but in the eyes of the convention, they are playing with fire and brimstone.

Then, just last week, it was revealed that the governors of the Presbyterian Church of America are investigating the pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville to determine if he allowed a woman or women to speak at a worship service in violation of church doctrine. The suspect pastor, the Rev. John Wood, is minister to a congregation of more than 5,000, one of the denomination's largest. He was quoted as taking the position that, although he's been exonerated of the charge by his own regional Tennessee Valley Presbytery, it's a worthwhile exercise to determine where the parent church stands. Does its institutional ban on ordination of women as full-fledged pastors also prohibit ordinary lay women from speaking to congregations during worship services?

What a quandary. Has anyone pointed out to the governing bodies of these and other such misdirected churches that they ought to be delighted that women, who are maligned and denigrated and cast into subservient roles and accused of causing original sin in various translations of the Old and New Testaments, are still willing to stand up in church and praise God and preach His Gospel as they see it?

In all cases where women are banned from preaching, the reasoning goes that God said they ought not. Well, the literal word of any of the Books of The Bible remains open to interpretation in many religious quarters. Consider for a moment that it was almost 2,000 years after the founding of the Christian faith before any woman was considered scholar enough, in the Biblical sense, to be allowed to participate in the translations of the original texts from the Hebrew and Greek. Is it not at least possible that centuries worth of translations and transcriptions by male scholars, monks, and scribes lent just a little bit of pro-male bias to the Word as they found it?

It's a worthy suspicion, even if the evidence is circumstantial. Why? Because Christians, whose Savior is Jesus of Nazareth, should be guided by the teachings of that Son of God himself, who honored women in all respects and who did not, it would seem, instruct women to remain silent in their faith.

The presently popular self-admonition, "What would Jesus do?" is more widely used by young Christians than their elders. Is that because the young are so naive that they think living by such a guiding question would be easy? Yes, and no. There is no real difficulty in determining the high road, morally speaking, in any given situation, for any person with a modicum of moral and ethical training. In fact, it should be much more difficult to labor with the reasoning necessary to justify some "principle" of religious doctrine that discriminates against any of the faithful or lowers the stature of a believer simply because of gender.

The United States has laws against discriminating against anyone because of their sex. There is no compelling reason to attempt to apply those laws within religious orders. The state should truly stay out of religious matters. But what is right in that context is evident.

One, or many, can argue it out 'til kingdom come, but any "principle" that holds that women are somehow the lesser side of humankind will still not ever be anything but wrong.

So that anyone, male or female, who preaches that women should be permitted to be ministers of their own faith is preaching on the good side of Heaven, as well as of humanity.

June 29, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 26
© 2000 Metro Pulse