A Message from Ellen 7-19-23
July 19, 2023
July 19, 2023
When I heard that the Southern Baptist Convention doubled down on their prohibition of women serving as pastors or in leadership roles where teen or adult males might be present I felt deeply sad. It has taken me some time to assimilate this news. Mind you, it is not new news. I graduated from Furman University when it was solidly Southern Baptist, and the fight was about whether or not students could dance (as if that were really decided on a denominational level!). Yes, I am that old. I am so old that the first woman ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the old Southern Presbyterian Church (the denomination in which I grew up) was ordained when I was four years old. In other words, women as pastors in the Presbyterian Church has happened in my lifetime. I remember the first woman ordained as an Elder in the Seneca Presbyterian Church when I was in middle school. I had never seen a woman preach before I felt called to go to seminary! I had to go and find one! For the record, I sat in the back row and cried, but I can still remember parts of that sermon.
There are many churches who do not allow women to serve in leadership roles over mixed teen or adult groups. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (First Presbyterian – downtown) and the Reformed Church of America (Northeast Presbyterian) do not allow women in leadership roles unless it is with children or only with women. So, the prohibition by the SBC was not a surprise, but I was surprised by the pall that the decision cast over my heart.
I have no doubt that God called me into the ordained ministry of God’s Church. And I have no doubt that God is free and has always given the gifts and calling to serve to whomever God chooses. If God can use Jacob, for crying out loud, who could say that God cannot use me!? It is not that anyone and everyone should be ordained, but that anyone that God has called and gifted for this particular function in the Church should be ordained out of obedience to God. Ordained service is not a status to be achieved, but a discipline, a lifestyle, and a privilege.
Dr. Frances Taylor Gench, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, wrote a comprehensive and thought provoking article in The Presbyterian Outlook (If you don’t subscribe you might want to consider!) that addresses the interpretation of Scripture that has led many (if not most) churches to believe that preventing women from serving in the leadership of Christ’s Church is an error in Scriptural interpretation. Presbyterians take Scripture seriously. Gench quotes renowned OT scholar, Terence Fretheim, as saying that ascribing a high level of authority to the Bible (e.g. “I believe in the authority of Scripture more than you do”) does not guarantee the accuracy of our interpretations. I believe the Southern Baptists, the Associate Reformed Church, and the Presbyterian Churches of America are sincerely wrong. It is important that we think prayerfully and thoughtfully about how we interpret Scripture. I am linking Frances Taylor Gench’s excellent article for your own consideration.On Women Pastors and Biblical Authority F Taylor Gench There are also hard copies at the downstairs lobby desk. I have asked The Outlook for permission to reproduce Frances’ article to share with you, and they gladly agreed. I hope you will read it.
See you in worship!