Saturday, 16 October 2010

Women and men in Christ...?

*sticks head above parapet*

I'm sure he is gracious.
I'm sure he is a lovely man and pastor.
I'm just not sure he should be on the list of nominations for Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Why my disquiet over Rev. C. Peter White as a Mod. nom.?
As a woman training for ministry of word and sacrament within the CofS, a denomination which over 40 years ago through its system of governance passed legislation allowing for the ordination of women elders and women ministers of word and sac., I'm more than a little stunned to read his blog entry concering the role of women in the church.
To be fair, the blog entry is addressing a particular matter within his congregation, however, while I might disagree with some of his exegesis, the concern comes from the following comment:
Although I think Scripture allows for CoS women elders, a question remains in my heart.

To nominate someone for Mod who is not 'quite all the way there yet' with regard to particular roles of women within the CofS, namely women in eldership [and one is forced to consider the question - what about women ordained to ministry of word and sacrament?] ... and here I reiterate, an institution which recognises these roles in its law and practice, and which has done so now for over 40 years is just a bit of a bizarre thing to do - indeed a little bit of a situational oxymoron proceedurally, no?

This is not an argument about having to accept this opinion as a consequence of being a 'broad kirk'; it is a matter of kirk law.  
While we are indeed a broad kirk, we work within a particular structure in which there are regulations set down in order to faciliate how we go about being that broad kirk. It would be odd indeed to have someone who would seem to appear not to hold to the law of the kirk as Moderator. This particular broad kirk holds that we accept women for ordination both as elders, deacons and ministers of word and sacrament. This is not about bias, or even a matter for conscience, it is about keeping in line with thegovernance of the church structure one is working within.

That said, I do have to wonder: if this were not about women but about people of colour, and that there were entire presbyteries found in which there were white only sessions/ no ministers of colour, it would certainly raise a question with regard to the possibility of institutional racism. Maybe the question that is quietly being asked here is whether there is still institutional sexism?

Earlier in his blog, Mr White discusses the concept of male 'headship' and notes:
I appeal to those of you, therefore, who say that because there are no women elders, women are second class citizens in Sandyford. Hold on a minute. Respecting male headship does not make that young lady a second class citizen in her marriage, nor need it in church. Rather the reverse: look again at his commitments. When well obeyed it protects women and their ministries of service, cherishes their femininity and seeks their fulfilment.   

Here I would ask how we define what 'femininity' is exactly?  And further, who is it that gets to define the criteria?  But that, I think, is a discussion for another day.
I just find it extremely disappointing that at the highest reaches of the kirk's structure there are people who seem to think it is neither odd, nor proceedurally unfitting, to nominate someone who has difficulties with an aspect of kirk law that has been around for forty years.  While perhaps completely unintentional, particularly in view of this year's debate within the Ministries Council report which discussed women eldership and again affirmed women in ministry, it still does send out a negative message.
A little like a slap to all women who have been called into the various ministries within the kirk:
a wee reminder to us to not get too above ourselves, and that this situation could change.
And so, back to definitions: how do we define 'ministry'? And who is it that gets to define it?

In one of those fascinating little lectionary irony twists, this week's gospel passage is Luke 18:1-8, the story of the persisitent widow:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" 

The widow keeps 'bothering' the judge, insistent upon justice.  Eventually, just to get rid of her, the judge listens to her, and gives her the justice she is seeking.  How long must we, as women in Christ, as women of the kirk and the wider Church keep insisting that justice be done?  How long must we keep bothering the institution by reminding them that we, too, have a place at the [communion] table, both in front of and behind?


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Mrs Gerbil said...

I agree, his thoughts on this matter completely cut across church law. As Mod he would be a representitive of it at assembly. I know the clerks are there for advise, but he would be chair. That could be very dangerous, especially at what will be an interesting assembly to say the least...
I don't know about you, but at my assessment conference we were all asked on our opinion on ordination of women. Strangely enough, I was in favour! But, the question was asked to ensure all new candidates supported it - male and female alike. So, if we candidates are supposed to support all peoples calls to the various ministies in CofS, why not those representing us at assembley - the highest court in the Kirk? That's not fair to the Kirk and all its members - male and female.

spotthegerbil said...

slaps forehead in stunned amazement...

Mark 16 etc. If it wasn't for the women, nothing would get done.

Isn't it about time we got over the boys versus girls thing. That's the sort of argument you have in the primary school playground.

Nik said...

ahhh, looks like we have a brace of Gerbils :)

Isabel Buchan said...

Why do women betray themselves by reading only what we think someone is saying without first asking the person who said/wrote it if our understanding is correct? Ask Peter - he is not opposed to women, and is seeking to encourage his congregation to propose women - but at their pace.
In case you are wondering, I am a woman minister, ordained since 1975, and I have found Peter nothing but supportive, considerate, and caring towards me as a woman in the ministry.
Why do we insist on 'demanding our rights' so to speak? Why are we so belligerent? Things have changed enormously since I trained 1970-74, but I have never felt the need to do battle - we do not have to prove anything. Be yourself, allow God to work and speak through you as you go about your ministry, knowing that God has called you.
I have faced little obvious opposition in all these years, and where there has been any, or been doubts, they have generally been overcome in the course of time.
I urge you to ask Peter himself and you may be surprised - pleasantly surprised.

JohnO said...

If Peter is, as you say, supportive of women in ministry and is, as would seem to be the case in the majority of that blog post, encouraging women into ministry, why does he continue to have a question mark hanging over its 'rightness'?
Why not simply state, unequivocally, that he firmly believes the Bible supports women in ministry? He obviously has to work within the bounds of his Session's wishes, but he doesn't need to agree with them, and he is welcome to state that publicly, on the blog for example.

Isabel B said...

I am not getting in to a prolonged discussion back and forth about what we understand of what Peter was writing to his own Congregation, primarily. Ask Peter, directly, personally, quietly, as should have been done in the first place.

Nik said...

Dear Isobel
thanks for posting - given I'm an obscure nobody, I'm quite surprised you found my blog in the first place and further, posted your comment a week and several blog entries after the initial post was written.
One thing I would like to pick up with you - your use of the word 'belligerent'. If that is how my post came across, then I am deeply sorry, as it was not my intent. I am, however, not sorry I posted the blog... I use this as a letting down of hair/ musing space and that is merely what I was doing: musing on the fact that over 40 years have passed since women have been able to be ordained in the kirk and that it still appears for some to be an issue. My post was also not casting any personal aspersions at Mr White, as I quite unequivocally noted at the beginning. Further, the post did acknowledge the 'local' context of Mr White's blog. I was more trying, obviously inarticulately, to tease out a systemic matter. I am delighted he has been supportive of your ministry - I don't know him and only have his blog to use as some kind of guide. It was just odd to see the 'questions in my heart' part of what he had said. This is merely what I was raising.
Warm greetings

JohnO said...

Peter has made it a public discussion by putting it 'out there' on his blog. Commenting has not been enabled there so the conversations must take place elsewhere. As you have suggested his blog entry is not representative of his stance on women in ministry then it is useful, as you have done, to contribute to the discussion. It is only reasonable though that your assertions are further discussed in light of what Peter has seemingly said.
None of it is intended to be belligerent - it is simply a way of unpicking what has been said so that all sides may better understand why something has been said. Your contribution to that discussion is appreciated.