“All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”

“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.

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21 thoughts on ““All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”

  1. At Fuller seminary, where I did not complete my MDiv (first enrolled for MDiv) or masters in theology (later thought I was more interested in academia), I was educated by a woman ordained as a Presbyterian (USA) minister. She and her husband had been affiliated with other denominations before becoming Presbyterian (USA). I went through similar process when questioning whether to confirm my faith as a Roman Catholic and ended up becoming an Episcopalian. Now, I’m undefined and do not attend church. I tend to get overwhelmed and lost in groups, subsuming my own needs, my sense of self in fact, for the needs of the whole. So, I do my work like this. Using my computer, my casual interactions with others throughout the day and the week, to do God’s work. Basically, I try to love to the best of my ability, while taking care of myself. I do identify rather strongly with Christian saints, though.

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    1. Kitt, thanks for sharing. I may have to pick your brain on what seminary is like; my characters are seminary grads, and while I have a master’s in English, that academic setting was far different than a seminary one. (Or so I imagine!)

      I understand the feeling of losing the sense of self in a group setting. I’m that way, many times. It’s hard for me to speak up and disagree with a group unless I know there’s others who agree with me (or, alternately, I feel secure and respected by everyone in the group.) I’ve told myself that I’m just unwilling to disrupt the peace and unity of the church, but really, I’m peacekeeping rather than peacemaking. Big, big difference. I suspect that there are others in this denomination who agree with me on female ordination, but they are unwilling to court controversy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fuller is a multi-denomination seminary. As such, there is a healthy diversity of Christian theology. The school is evangelical and reform, but intellectually open. My experience with educated theologians, pastors, priests, nuns, monks, and brothers, is that they are an incredibly intellectual group. You would love seminary, actually. My son was young, we moved twice, my husband lost his job, too many stressors for me to maintain my mental health. Honestly, in seminary, I felt I was among my tribe, as I do with writers. In many ways, the two are alike, finding meaning in a text.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve got a lot of thoughts I’m still trying to hash out on this, but I’ll tell you– a few years ago, I helped our women’s organization compile a cookbook. (My wife had volunteered, but I was worried maybe she’d taken on more than she could handle.) I learned a LOT about what the women of our ward (read: congregation) contributed.

    In addition to this, I can tell you the women of our ward have been much quicker to send me notifications of goings-on than the men have; they’ve also been more consistent about our member ministry, which we call home and visiting teaching. The Relief Society president was even so bold to say on the stand that their ministry assignments in visiting teaching were also to the families as well as the sisters. I was deeply honored as before I thought they were just humoring me as I’m at home on disability and therefore present when my wife’s visiting teachers come to visit.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jaklumen. I don’t know much about how your church is organized, and you’ll have to forgive my ignorance. What are the “visiting teachers” and are they only of one gender?

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      1. Home teachers- men, minister to an entire family. Includes young men who are at least 14 and ordained to the office of teacher (generally speaking, the teacher’s quorum is boys 14 and 15. It would take me longer to explain how the young men’s and men’s quorums are organized).
        Visiting teachers- women of the Relief Society (women’s organization for women ages 18 and over), minister to the women in a home

        That is the usual arrangement, although particular circumstances warrant alternate arrangements. I’ve done visits with my wife and currently, a few of our assignments overlap to a particular family, so, if our companions are unavailable, we do visits and calls together.

        A friend of ours– ethnically Jewish but Catholic by profession, told me that home teaching and visiting teaching, to her, sounded just like practices of the early Christian church, where they visited each other in their homes.

        At the end of the day, I don’t think the gender arrangements are the important part. It is a way to get every individual member of a ward (or branch, if it’s a smaller congregation) to look after each other and their needs. Good bishops and branch presidents, (read: pastors) of wards and branches will utilize the reports they get from the men’s quorums (High Priests, Elders) and the Relief Society (the women’s group) to assess the needs of their ward. I had a few bishops that knew exactly what was happening with all their ward members because they were diligent and consistent about utilizing these channels of communication.

        Mormon.org can also give you some more information– it is specifically set up to answer questions people not of our faith might have. I’m more than willing to answer more questions, but that might save you some time and you can read it at your leisure.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to wonder……..when you say “my denomination” does this mean you are still a member of this denomination? And, if so, why?

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    1. Good question, Beverly. When I say “my denomination,” it’s not because I’m still a member. We were members of a particular PCA church for 10 years. Neither my husband nor I were raised Presbyterian. I was Christian and Missionary Alliance and in various non-denominational congregations; he was raised UCC, became an atheist, then became a Baptist. (We met in a Baptist church.) After the PCA church split and we decided to visit other churches, we formally (in writing) broke our membership without transferring it to any other congregation. We visited several different types of churches (Presbyterian–of several types; Baptist–again, a few different types; Anglican; a home church) before settling on another PCA church. But we’re not members, just regular attendees.

      It’s really hard to know what to do. I’d love to find a church that meets all of our family members’ needs and teaches what we believe, but I’m not certain that a church like that exists in our extremely conservative area of the country. Something has to be compromised: but what should it be? Friendliness? Doctrine? Family needs? And after a year-and-a-half long church search, I’m exhausted of being a perpetual visitor and stranger.

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      1. Hey Laura, I realize that this post is old, but I get what you’re saying. I myself am in a similar position and have been through a similar past.

        Yeah, the PCA is definitely more conservative than the PC(USA). I got saved in the PC(USA) church before heading off to Baylor University (heavily Evangelical). While at Baylor, I got involved in a complementarian Evangelical charismatic church that led me to end up basically a doormat, and that caused me problems. I am among Baylor’s assault victim stats — presumably as part of an anonymous tally — because of a combination of abusive “male covering” / complementarian and charismatic teachings, although it occurred around 2001ish timeframe (but may have been recorded in I think around 2014, because that’s when I finally found the mental clarity and courage to report it).

        While at Baylor, I also encountered PCA folks. They were…. pretty strict, if my interaction with them is any indication. Not much at all like my PC(USA) church that believed in adhering to the Scriptures, while also permitting women to serve as congregational pastors (and elsewhere in the church).

        Anyway, long story short, yes, I have struggled to find a suitable church for our family in our current, mostly conservative area, and a lot of that is because that few churches in our area truly affirm women, and fewer still have a decent children’s ministry that would benefit our daughter.

        I have often thought about that Orwellian quote in light of church complementarianism. Seems spot-on to me.

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      2. Lynda, thanks for sharing your story. The issue of trying to find the “right” church for people is, sadly, a very common one. There’s a bit of movement on the PCA’s part over the issue of women in church leadership; some are calling for female deacons, etc., and the particular PCA church I’m attending has changed quite a bit in the years I’ve been there. More women are in visible leadership roles, helping with the church service, etc.

        I’m sorry you suffered at Baylor. Assault is horrible, and covering it up is simply wrong. Completely unchristian. I really don’t know how anyone could justify covering up illegal and immoral behavior!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “One blogger claimed that it’s not about exegesis of certain passages of Scripture but about rebellion.” – It sounds like that blogger has a misguided sense of priority, then. Our relationship with one another is to be Spirit-led and Bible-based. Anyone who says it’s not is someone I will rebel against with elan.

    And when you wrote “I’m not the strong, driven, opinionated type of woman”, I was thankful to have just set my coffee down or I would have snorted its contents across my keyboard. One of the reasons I love to read your writing is because you have strong opinions and you state them so well. Come on, Laura, don’t start holding back on us now; your readers need your insights!

    Tim

    P.S. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to use the word “elan” in a sentence today.

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    1. Glad I didn’t cause a coffee-snorting accident! 🙂 I just don’t see myself as a “strong” person or opinionated one most of the time. In person, I tend to keep my opinions to myself because I don’t like causing fusses, especially when I feel outnumbered. One of the main places I feel outnumbered is the church, and I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having others (women) become hostile when I shared my opinion. In writing, I feel as though I can be stronger, braver, and more honest in expressing myself. If someone argues with me in a comment, I have time to think about my reply, which I don’t have in real time conversations. I’ll try not to hold back!

      One other thing that I noticed about the blog post I referenced is this: the blogger never quoted the Bible. He quoted the Book of Church Order and talked about historical precedence. I would’ve understood his position better if he’d quoted the Bible, and respected his position but disagreed with it. But the Book of Church Order?! That seemed bizarre to me.

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      1. Citing the Book of Church Order without reference to biblical support reminds me of what Jesus was saying when he told the Pharisees they added to Scripture with all their rules.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is not related to your post’s topic, per se; please forgive me, but for some strange reason it didn’t show up in my Reader! I didn’t change any settings. I double-checked my Reader content over the past few days…I wondered if any of your other followers had the same problem. I’m glad I thought to double-check….and I will read this post when I’m not rushing out the door. :)) take care, Laura

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    1. Hm, I have no idea what might have happened. I haven’t changed any settings on my blog (at least not intentionally!) so I’m confuzzled. (That’s a word my daughter’s math and Bible teacher coined: a combination of puzzled and confused.)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I checked my reader (I subscribe to my own blog for this purpose) and discovered that this post didn’t end up in my reader, either. I searched the help forums to no avail, and finally submitted a question for the support staff. We’ll see what/if they say. Thanks for letting me know!

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