But God has shown me (Peter) that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (Acts 10: 28b)
Peter, a faithful Jew, is meeting with a crowd of non-Jews and has just acknowledged that the teachings of his faith forbid intermingling with those who were not of that faith. He’s had what we might call a conversion experience. Now he realizes that such teachings are not from God and are contrary to God’s desire to include all people.
It is hard for any of us to overcome the lessons we learned from family and other authority figures in our childhoods. So I understand when people believe women should not be pastors even though my ELCA denomination has been ordaining women since 1970 – the entire life span of my daughters. My former bishop tells the story of being challenged by a leader of another denomination with the statement, “The problem is you permit the ordination of women.” Bishop Phil Wahlberg said he replied, “Not true. We don’t permit it, we promote it.”
I was one of the women he promoted. Bishop Wahlberg was a major influence in my early years as a pastor. When I encountered distain, resistance and occasionally outright hostility, I would remind myself, Phil Walhberg and God seem to think what I’m doing is OK. I’ll go with their opinion.
So last Sunday our congregation got to meet the candidate the Call Committee and Council are recommending to the congregation. This candidate has a college degree in Business Administration. She effectively and faithfully led a congregation out of their doldrums to a place of financial stability, increased worship to where over half the congregation attended each Sunday (our denominational average is around thirty percent attendance), and kept the congregation within the folds of the ELCA when other area congregations left in protest to a statement of inclusion of gay leaders reached at a churchwide assembly a while back. This candidate has had special training in leading in a diverse culture. Houston is the most diverse city in the nation. Our congregation has members from many different parts of the global village.
The Synod selected this candidate to develop a new mission start outside Austin. In a matter of a few years the mission grew to a thriving congregation of seventy and was officially received as a new congregation within the ELCA.
Yet still there are a few among us who don’t think we should issue “Pastor X” a call because she is – well – she is a she. I find this so sad. I get it. But I find it very sad. As one member of the congregation pointed out, “If we’d had a less than perfect experience with a previous male pastor we wouldn’t resist considering another male pastor.” And the problems we had in the past weren’t gender related. They were classic example of the grass looking greener where the former pastors went than where the new pastor is serving.
So, trusting that we have the good sense to call this capable young woman (anyone under sixty is young in my book), I can reveal her name in a future blog.
For now, I acknowledge it’s hard for me to over ride the messages of my childhood that people of a certain gender, color, culture, or other distinguishing characteristic are suspicious. It is understandable. It is common. And it is wrong. If Peter could let God change his deeply entrenched thinking regarding the non-Jews of his age, perhaps we too can consider recording new messages that we ought to strive for understanding, openness and inclusion. Those old messages are not helpful and too often are truly harmful. It’s past time to erase them.