A few weeks back, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church ordained three women, despite the SBC’s official position against women’s ordination. Predictably so, the Internet exploded. It seemed like half the church was celebrating this momentous occasion while the other half was up in arms. The topic of women’s ordination has been a defining debate in the church for many years now and likely won’t go away anytime soon. It’s also a topic that’s become quite important to me over the last few years as I felt the sting of not having the same authority or opportunity as my husband in church settings, up until recently.
After getting sucked into the black hole that is my Facebook feed, I started jotting down some of the comments I saw in response to Saddleback’s post honoring these three women. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of encouraging comments in the mix, but these are a few of the ones that struck a painful chord in me.
Repent and fire these women. Time to leave this church. This is spitting in God’s face. This is such a shame. This is completely unbiblical.
You get the point. I’m going to go out on a limb and say if there’s anything that’s going to turn nonbelievers off to the gospel, it’s not going to be more women preaching – it’s going to be the rest of the church’s response to more women preaching. Not everyone cares about the nuances of teach versus preach or the semantics of complementarian versus egalitarian – all they see in those comments are Christians attacking other Christians. They see three women embracing their calling and being called out for it.
We have made the female ordination debate more about our own perceptions and interpretations than seeking to understand the heart of Jesus. To my knowledge, most women aren’t becoming pastors to stick it to the patriarchy – they’re becoming pastors because they love Jesus and want more people to know about Him. They just want to talk about Him. And if that’s not the motivation, the stamina likely won’t be there, nor the fruit. But that’s not for us to judge or decide (more on the motivations/desires of female pastors in the articles listed at the end of this blog).
I know people are never going to see eye to eye on this issue, and I’m not here to try to convince people to choose one side or the other. Rather, I want to challenge the people who are up in arms over this issue to think about what your response says about you as an individual and how it reflects back on the church as a whole. Because the way we respond to issues we don’t agree with can either be one of our greatest witnesses or one of our biggest downfalls. The way to handle the women’s ordination debate should not be through degrading, demeaning or denouncing every single person who disagrees with you, especially in the supposed name of Jesus. This sort of response is not loving correction nor thoughtful conversation – it is narrow interpretation and prideful assumption.
If being biblical was the main concern, then we shouldn’t be seeing an entire slew of comments that are anything but. Furthermore, there is nothing biblical about clinging to one verse so much so that countless other verses and values are foregone. The Pharisees, in an attempt to thwart Jesus’s authority, wielded their own cherry-picked verses as weapons, and it backfired every time. Several times throughout the gospels, we see Jesus healing individuals on the Sabbath (Mark 3, Luke 13 and John 9 to name a few). This scandalized the Pharisees, whose own literal and limited interpretations of what the Scriptures said about not working on the Sabbath blinded them from the bigger picture of what God was doing.
They too were missing the point. They cared more about their rules than the opportunity for people to be healed. Their pride got in the way of empathy. Their interpretation of Scripture was no longer about the gospel but about being right and proving a point. And while they laser-focused in on their laws about the Sabbath, they literally missed the miracles that were happening in their presence. They missed Jesus.
By no means am I arguing that we should abandon the Word of God or give up trying to better understand it. Rather, I’m warning us against using select parts of it to fit our own agendas. I’m warning us against fixating so narrowly that we abandon the most important command of all – to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I’m afraid that much of the church still cares more about the finer points of our position on women’s roles than celebrating the souls that these women might bring to Jesus. More about defending 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 than supporting our sisters as they pursue their calling. We are missing the point with the women’s ordination debate because the point is and always has been Jesus. How he loved women, and how He loved even the people who disagreed with Him.
So, my challenge to people who are still struggling with this debate. Don’t let your opinions get in the way of humility. Pray for these women. Pray for the people who are going to hear them preach. Pray for the churches they are going to serve in. Pray for Jesus to use them, even if it’s not in the way you ever imagined He would or could. If anything is going to come against women seeking to live out their calling, let it not be other Christians.
There are many others who know far more than I do on this subject, and I encourage you to check out a few articles that I’ve recently enjoyed!
I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate. (Tish Harrison Warren)
The Surprising Reason Women Go to Seminary (Sharon Hodde Miller)