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Commentary: Women in the Ministry

By The Rev. Diana DeWitt

For many persons, the issue of women in the ministry is a tedious and long fought battle that, at least in precept, is a battle that has been won to the positive inclusion and acceptance of women in the pastoral role of church leadership. For others, the issue still brings a great deal of pain and agonizing over the "rightness" or "wrongness" of women serving as pastors. For those who struggle with this issue today, either individually within a denomination like The United Methodist Church, which has authorized the ordination of women, or denominationally within those religious structures which still do not accept women in the priestly role, this is certainly not a closed issue. Granted, there is much wider acceptance of women in the ministry today than in our recent past. But for those who are struggling with accepting a woman pastor in their pulpit, or for those women who are struggling with some sense of God's call upon their life to such service, the internal and external struggles still exist. To dismiss these concerns as merely narrow-minded prejudice does a great disservice to the sincerity of the struggle for many people whose primary desire is to be faithful to God's will and obedient to God's written Word, the Holy Bible.

It is dangerous to try to offer a simple answer to such a deep and complex issue as women in the ministry. One might say that I have "risen from the opposition," as I personally held strong and supported views opposing women in the pulpit. It was from this position of opposition that God called me with unmistakable clarity to be a pastor, now serving as an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. While trying to uphold the religious convictions of my heart, I found myself on somewhat of a Damascus Road, and suddenly it seemed that Paul and I had more in common than I had previously thought.

In my personal struggle with God's call upon my life to be pastor, I implored God to take me to the Holy Scriptures that I so love and revere, and to show me how this could be permissible in God's will. God was so faithful to guide me and to show me with unmistakable clarity many of the misconceptions that I had held. As I have tried to respond to questions from others about women in the ministry I have found it helpful to work through the Wesleyan quadrilateral method of theological reflection using Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. While I have studied and reflected on the issue of women in ministry for my own response to others, I find it difficult to offer a concise reflection on such.

May it suffice to say in this writing that Scripture offers us a look at God's original intent in the creation of male and female, and the mutual and equal roles that they each play within all of creation. As we study the creation accounts we can see how the fall did not change God's intent of equality in living out our relationships, although it made experiencing the reality of the equality a much more difficult task. In the New Testament we find that Jesus taught and lived in a way that reflected his respect for the worth and dignity of both women and men.

In Paul we have seen, in spite of some strong admonitions against women speaking in the Church, an underlying recognition that everyone is free in Christ Jesus. It is important to look at some of the more difficult passages from Paul's writings in light of the specific situation that he was addressing. Many spiritually mature women were active and respected in Paul's ministry.

In the tradition of the Old Testament people and the New Testament accounts, we find women actively involved in ministry. Although not as many women are mentioned in leadership roles as men, there is enough evidence to give us a glimpse at a tradition of women that is often overlooked. As we move from the patristic and medieval ages through the Reformation into modem history we see a repression of women's rights followed by a gradual resurgence of activity which began to afford more freedom and opportunities to women.

Women's personal experiences of God's call gives further witness to the importance of recognizing women in ministry positions. Although the sharing of personal testimony is subjective proof at best, the similarity of experience of women throughout the ages seems to offer some sense of validity to women's place in ministry.

It stands to reason, in view of scripture, tradition, and experience that women should be afforded the opportunity to live out their faith in the fullness of God's intention. All are given spiritual gifts for the building up and edifying of the Body of Christ. It is most significant to note that there is no mention in scripture of different gifts for men and women. It Is only reasonable to infer from this that the Holy Spirit will determine which gifts will be given to which persons, irrespective of gender. May we, as God's people, allow all people to operate fully in the gifts that are theirs.

Let us hear with freshness the words of the prophet Joel, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy" (Luke 2:17-18). Today, I believe, is "those days" of which the prophet spoke.