We’ve had an autumn I would not wish on anyone so I am a little late to the party but I have to mention Tony Jones who called for a schism in the church regarding women in ministry. (though he later modifies this and I would encourage reading the full encounter). He called for those who are in support of women in ministry to no longer remain in churches, or ministries where women are not welcomed in every role. Needless to say this was a controversial statement. Many people weighed in on both sides. Some cheering saying “it’s about time”! Others, women in particular, stating they had wonderful experiences serving in places where women were valued AND not seen as equal. This is what I used to think.
When I was in seminary our dean was Dr. Tommy Lea. Prior to coming to seminary, I didn’t even know there was a debate of any sort. In a meeting with him he told me two things. First, as the dean, he would defend me as a student wanting for me to have the best experience possible as he would for any student. Second, as a Christian man, he did not believe I had any right to be there. He had to live in that tension and so too would I.
He said that a man who knew Christ for five minutes held more wisdom than a woman who had known Christ for decades and indeed he held more wisdom even than any woman who attempted greater faith through academic or pastoral means. We ended the conversation amiably. He was always polite and a combination of age and personality placed me in that same category of being polite. This is the tension I have known and lived with for years.
It is a soul destroying tension. It is not a paradox like the now and not yet. It is a daily exercise in self talk both accepting a diminished status and not being able to serve in the ways God has set forth. It does not reflect sound theology nor biblical teaching.
I can’t help what would have happened if those at the time of Christ had made this choice. Historically there have been some creative options to get around Mary having been the mother of Jesus. Two of the more choice heresies are Docetism and Nestorianism. Docetism believed that Jesus only appeared human and had never actually been born rather He was delivered through her with no contribution from her whatsoever. Nestorianism took a slightly different stance but one appalled at the idea of a woman as the Theotokos none-the-less. In this view Mary indeed bore a male child, named him Jesus but he was only human. His divinity came later so that the deity was not corrupted by a woman. Both of these were condemned as heresy.Thank goodness Joseph, the disciples- male and female, Paul, Lydia and countless others realized that a woman not only could bear Christ to the world but she was created for just such a task. Their following of Jesus was not in jeopardy because of the one who bore Him to the world. Mary didn’t cause a schism, precisely because the people who knew who and still chose to follow Jesus didn’t care that a woman was vital to his being. She didn’t cause a schism because she did not have to.
The struggle for some that a female could offer something of significance is nothing new. May the modern day heresies and struggles women in ministry face and those who support women in ministry face become a part of history. May we recognize them for the heresies they are and get on with the charge to bring forth light unto darkness. May unity take place that is inclusive of all, not a self defined elite group.
Unto us a child is born. Thanks be to God!