This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Saturday, March 10, 2012

International Women’s Day 2012


    National advocacy days seem to be proliferating as quickly as Hallmark holidays.  I have no objection.  Just as I enjoy my morning devotional to reflect on the things of the spirit, or my daily paper to reflect on society, these advocacy days often bring positive thoughts to mind and new knowledge.

     National Hug Day (21 Jan), National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day (03 Jan) or Take Your Pet to Work Day (24 Jun) may not seem on par with Independence Day (04 Jul) or Canada Day (01 Jul), yet sometimes such faux-holidays might bring an otherwise mundane topic into greater focus.

    International Day of Women (08 Mar) is a United Nations’ sponsored holiday that spotlights the experience and heritage of women around the world – including women Mennonites from all ethnicities and denominational groups.

    My interest in the concept of Mennonite womanhood was also recently sparked by a comment to a website regarding the new-found interest by progressive Evangelicals and Southern Baptists in their Anabaptist heritage – indicating celebration of a newly reclaimed tie of which many traditional Anabaptists seem to be wary.  Regrettably, despite a long internet search, I have been unable to relocate the comment, but it went something along the lines that as a woman, the commenter was glad to be Mennonite and not a member of the more Fundamentalist non-Anabaptist denominations because the Mennonites recognized the ordination of women to the pastoral office and their equal participation in the church.
    My immediate reaction to the comment was to be somewhat miffed by the commenter’s appropriation of the term Mennonite to refer, presumably, only to the “liberal” MC-USA, MC-Canada and the Dutch Doopsgezinde all of which ordain women, while excluding those Mennonite groups who do not.

    Culturally, my thoughts went beyond the appropriated use of the term Mennonite to consideration of how I as an ethnic Mennonite felt about the concept of unity between Anabaptism and the Fundamentalists and how I, as a Fundamentalist-leaning Anabaptist or evangelical Mennonite, felt about the ordination of women.

     I was intrigued by my reaction regarding women in the pulpit.  For the record, I am caught in a faith paradox, caught in a self-conflicting ambivalence over the concept of women in the ministry.  In theory, I have nothing against women pastors whatsoever.  I know and have met numerous women pastors, both Mennonite and non-Mennonite, and have found them to be highly competent, intelligent, truly spiritual and a great benefit to their individual congregations, to their denominations as a whole, and to the individuals who turn to them for guidance and teaching.  I am a spiritual feminist.  There, I said it.
    On the other hand, reaching back to my own conservative Anabaptist heritage – I am confused.  The Brüderthaler Mennonites have a long tradition of strong women leaders – on the mission field.  But back home in the home churches, not so much, at least not officially.  While I am proud of the many Brüderthaler and Brüderthaler-supported strong female missionaries (both home and abroad), I would never have supported any of them as a pastor in that they were a) female and b) usually unmarried.  What was the Mennonite commenter talking about? – real Mennonites do not have women pastors.  
    Shocked at admitting my apparent prejudice, I tried to analyze it more deeply.  Why would I have not supported the women who founded churches in the mission field, in the home pulpit?  Simply because I did not perceive them as being trained, educated or prepared for the ministry.  They might make excellent pastoral wives or even deaconesses, but as single women, they were not equipped for the ministry.  Hmmm…
    Furthermore, I realized that I could not see any of my numerous sisters, for instance, as pastors (though one is a pastor’s wife).  They simply seemed to lack the emotional, spiritual and academic preparedness to pull off such a role.
    Yet, again, many of the most impacting pastors in my own life have been women – how does this square up?
    In analyzing my apparent prejudice, I believe I discovered the root of the difference to be in my reaction to the terms “pastor” and “woman pastor” – or simply that I do not see the female pastors as “women” but rather as “pastors.”  As “pastors”, these women have received a calling from God, have responded to that calling, have been trained and educated to fulfill that calling, and have presented themselves as capable, effective and spiritual candidates for that office.  They are simply, pastors – and there is no distinction between male and female pastors – they are all the same as per the aforementioned criteria (again, this is speaking only to my own reaction and understanding).

    Why am I opposed to “female” pastors, or even my own sisters assuming such a role?  Simply, I believe, because they are not perceived to have received such a calling, have not responded to such a calling, are not prepared to take up that calling and would, as unprepared, disinterested persons, make terrible pastors – not because of any personal shortcoming or spiritual prohibition, but simply because they are not pastoral candidates in the sense of the spiritual calling and preparation.
    Understanding this, I see that my problem is not so much “what” I thought but “how” I thought.  My own intellectual support for Scriptural injunctions against women in the pulpit were being buttressed by “examples” taught to us in sermons and Sunday School – the example of the dominant or aggressive woman who wrongly seeks to lord it over men and others, or the temptress (supposedly Paul was warning against the likes of Rome’s pagan priestesses) or the social climber – none of which types which would be likely called of God to be a pastor or recognized as viable pastoral candidates by the congregations.  Those types are not pastors – they are other things.  Nor could I envision even my own sisters as pastors – because they are not pastors – they lack the calling, and thus the tools and attitude appropriate to that office.  They are wives, mothers, teachers and professionals – an entirely different calling.
    The realization then hits that I would similarly not support my father, obviously a man, as a pastor.  While he makes a great Sunday School teacher and even Sunday School Superintendent, he would make a lousy pastor.  Being male is simply not, despite Mennonite traditions to the contrary, the sole criteria for the pastoral office. Like my sisters, my father lacks the calling.  (Nor would I make a good pastoral candidate, for similar reasons.)
    On the other hand, if I am presented a person who claims the call of the Lord, has accepted that call and is prepared to handle the office both spiritually and intellectually, his or her gender is obviously of no import to me nor to my ability to see them as effective pastors.
    How silly I feel to having fallen for such a simple and stupid rhetorical device.  The call and office of pastor is about the individual not the sex
    Having realized this, I am reluctant to consider just how many capable women (or similarly how many men) have been denied their spiritual calling based on the manipulations of our understanding of the pastoral role and qualifications by a small number of fearful traditionalists and a  set of poor arguments.
    At the same time, I also now realize that it is not just about being willing to ordain women and men based on God’s calling, not their gender, but that we might also need to reexamine other equally essential matters.  A willingness to ordain women means that women must have equal access to educational and service opportunities, not only in the seminaries but in the colleges, Sunday Schools and home church congregations.  Women of strong faith must be upheld and celebrated in the church as equal role models to both men and women of the congregation.  And, girls must be instilled with the spiritual openness to respond to such a call to ministry, should one be revealed to them, just as are boys and young men, not just the call to be a pastor’s wife or foreign missionary.  

    Thinking about what it would be like to attend such a church, I must admit that I am intrigued.  I think I would like to be a member of such a church.  How positive the change would be to open up each individual to the possibility of his or her calling and to unite as a congregation to help that individual realize the Lord’s vision for his or her life.  Just as not all men are called to ministry, nor are all women.  No problem.  On the other hand, what if more men heard the call to serve in the nursery, to volunteer for pot-luck or even to serve as children’s and youth Sunday School leaders – what an inspiring, if somewhat disorientating, type of church life.  I for one like to cook and cater (not to mention grilling) – oh the opportunities and possibilities…
    After all these realizations, the major issue is not so much a tradition of Scriptural injunctions against female leadership positions, but rather the sadly missing voices of canonical female church leaders from the early church preserved within our canon of Scripture to serve as voice, guide and inspiration representing the non-masculine perception.  Thankfully, while it might be too late to hear from those early female church leaders directly, it is not too late to recognize and hear the voice of contemporary female leaders called of God today.
    So as you can see, 08 March, International Day of Women, did cause me to think and to make some realizations.  I was not happy to see myself holding onto some negative prejudices, yet they were prejudices that could be overcome with some open inner self-reflection and some spiritual honesty.   
    We should celebrate International Day of Women more often, or at least, more effectively.  It did me some good – I think it might have made me, umm, more Mennonite.

    Now, about National Chocolate Covered Cherries Day ... ... ...   (10 Mar 2012)

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