“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
This phrase from Animal Farm came to mind as I was researching female ordination in my church denomination. Each time I begin research for my new novel, there’s something new that startles me. I knew that my conservative denomination didn’t ordain women as pastors, elders, or deacons, but I was surprised by the amount of vitriol aimed at Presbyterian churches that do allow women to assist deacons.
Assist deacons, mind you. Not be deacons.
The charge against those churches is one of rebellion against their presbytery. Not rebellion against God, but rebellion against the presbytery-that-represents-God.
One blogger claimed that it’s not about exegesis of certain passages of Scripture but about rebellion. Not an issue of equality, he said. If I hadn’t been reading in a public place, I might’ve screamed. As it was, I muttered, “Yes, it is. It is about equality.”
Oh, yes, women are equal to men in Christ, but not equal enough for ordination. Not equal enough to be considered as possible candidates for leadership positions. Not equal enough to be granted the full privileges of serving Christ in whatever capacity he has gifted us.
What was it Orwell said? All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Substitute “human” for “animals”—
All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others.
—and you’ve got the issue here, not to mention the principle used to condone slavery, discrimination, and all kinds of injustice where one group of people is lifted above another.
Technically, I could earn a M.Div and a D.min from a reformed seminary, jump through all the academic hoops, receive my diploma, and be as (if not more) educated as the typical Presbyterian minister. Yet I couldn’t ever be ordained as a minister or an elder or a deacon in my own denomination.
The denomination wouldn’t consider whether I was spiritually gifted to preach, to teach (anyone other than women or children), or to lead.
What it would consider: I am female.
What the answer would be: No.
Why? Because I was born with the wrong genitalia.
Crude, but true.
I haven’t spoken up before now. Maybe I didn’t realize how this has affected me. But it has. When I went to a Christian college, I encountered one of the most sexist environments I can imagine. I was already depressed and spiraling downward, and while my interest in the liberal arts was affirmed (as it was not at my hometown university), I still didn’t have a voice. My opinions weren’t valued. When I needed help dealing with an overly aggressive suitor, I was not only unable to speak, I was stifled to the point of not knowing that I needed to speak. His behavior was considered normal. My feminism? Not normal, I was told.
And it broke me. In August, I was a feminist. By Christmas, I was broken. I sat in my bedroom and felt myself break, like a fragile tree limb cracking beneath my weight.
You’re easier to deal with now, a male student told me in the spring. Not as argumentative.
And that was a good thing? When the result was more depression, more instability and fear, more starving and binging and purging, then there’s an issue. And it’s an issue of whose voice is heard and whose is suppressed. And it’s an issue of equality and freedom.
I haven’t spoken up before now. Maybe I didn’t think this was my fight. I’m not a leader, not called to formal ministry, not particularly interested in theology. I’m not the strong, driven, opinionated type of woman. (Okay, maybe a little opinionated. Or a lot.) This was a fight for my mom or my friends or some other women, I thought. They don’t need me to speak on their behalf.
But this does matter. This is my fight. If it affects other women, men, and children, then it does affect me. No man is an island, John Donne writes. No woman, either.
This is my fight. It is my business. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge tells his late partner’s ghost, “You always were good at business, Jacob.” The ghost replies, “Business! Mankind was my business!”
None of us can afford not to care what happens to others. What happens to one could also happen to me or my daughters or my sisters-in-Christ. What happens to one is happening to others. It is happening to me.
And here’s what this feels like:
Like someone clapping a hand over my mouth. Stifling protests. Ripping voice from throat. Being mugged by the church, the one place where everyone should feel accepted, respected, and free to use their gifts and express their calling.
We haven’t come a long way, baby. Not by a long shot.