When Will We EVER Learn?

Where have all the flowers gone? Girls have picked them every one.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

(Pete Seeger)

I’ve just read a thread of Facebook posts offering empathy and encouragement to a woman whose father was a pastor. Sadly, in all her years of studying and serving the church as a pastor, he’s never accepted her as a colleague in the ministry. Why? Because she’s a she.

In an earlier chapter in my life, I made a cross country move for my husband’s career opportunity. I had one year of seminary training behind me. I was undecided about returning to complete studies after that move. Because I did have that one year of seminary behind me, I spent many hours listening to a fellow in our new church home wrestle about whether or not to move his family so he could study for ordained ministry. He eventually did just that. When I decided to complete requirements for a Master of  Divinity to be ordained into ministry he said, and I quote, “I don’t think women should do that.” Really? It’s OK for a female to guide a male colleague, but it’s not OK for that female colleague to do what is required to have equal status in the ministry?

My husband, however, was more than supportive of my decision. When all the studies were complete our next move was for me to accept a call and him to find new employment. Some men are just that open minded. It is refreshing.

One day, before I started back to seminary, my husband and I had lunch with the man whose job offer initiated our cross-country move. I was talking about my plans to complete my studies. He said, and again I quote, “I don’t think women should work. I couldn’t organize my sock drawer without her help.” I guess he thought he was complimenting his wife who said nary a word through that conversation.

In Genesis 1:27 we read:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I interpret that to mean it takes both males and females to fully reflect the fullness of God’s interaction among humans. I think “image” has little to do with physical appearance and attributes and much to do with character, personality and insights into relationships and how we create communities.

Effective communities need people who can establish and maintain healthy boundaries and structures. Effective communities also need people who can sense where there is heartbreak and humiliation and respond with compassion and encouragement. Both genders can do both these functions. However, the way we’re wired, men seem pre-conditioned to be problem solvers, builders of things, and protectors from scary situations.  Women seem more often to come with a built-in radar system that can detect a personal or interpersonal problem a mile away.

The ideal situation is to let all individuals apply their unique gifts to build up a community that nurtures and encourages men, women, boys, and girls.

I do not understand why the idea of women being in full and equal partnership with men is so threatening to so many men. But apparently it is. How else can we explain all male committees debating what’s best for women’s health care? How else can we explain all male teams dictating how women should dress and act? How else can we explain why some men, in some cultures, work so diligently to keep women away from voting booths, classrooms, courtrooms, pulpits, corporate offices, and back rooms where deals are made?

Not all men are like this. Thank God. I mean that literally. Some get it and when they do it is wonderful to behold. In my first call I was fortunate to work with a truly liberated colleague. He was the senior pastor who had established the church six years earlier. When they were ready for an associate pastor I joined the staff. In our first round of meetings to meet other area colleagues he intentionally introduced me as, “My new colleague,” rather than the common, “My associate pastor.”

I offered to not participate in the funeral for one of our members because her mother was a Roman Catholic who wanted her priest to be involved in the service. I didn’t think her daughter’s funeral was the place to have the “woman can be pastors too” conversation. My colleague would have none of that. He pointed out that I’d been tending to the husband and their daughter through the long painful days of waiting for this woman to die. His attitude was that I was a full partner in the ministry of that congregation and the Catholic priest could accept that or not participate.

I was nurtured by a bishop was liked to tell about conversation he had with a colleague from another denomination. The colleague told him, “The problem with you folks is that you permit the ordination of women.” My beloved bishop’s response was, “We don’t permit it. We promote it.”

I’ve often thought back to that story when I’ve run into brick walls of resistance regarding God’s right to call men and women into service. I tell myself, “God and Bishop Wahlberg seemed to think this was a good idea. That’s good enough for me.”

This debate about gender roles has been raging for as long as there have been males and females created in the image of God. When will we ever learn? When will we EVER learn to work together as equals for the common good? Apparently, not any time soon.

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