Kingdom Come at Augusta National!

Well, I just read that Augusta National Golf Club admitted its first two female members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. It’s about time! I don’t know the former Secretary of State, but I do know Darla Moore. I stayed with her parents while I was visiting Lake City United Methodist Church years ago. Darla’s mother, Lorraine, was LCUMC’s church secretary for 26+ years and her late father, Gene, was devoted to public education and a Hall-of-Famer sportsman. Their friendship with my in-laws, Guy and Dixie Godwin, was a joy to behold.

It’s also a joy to behold when the church actually outpaces society on key issues. Recognition of female leadership is one of those issues. In the Old Testament you have female leaders like Moses’ mother, Miriam his sister, Deborah the Judge, Naomi, and Ruth. Abigail and Hannah come to mind like Rahab and the victimized Bathsheba, and I’m sure that there are others, too. In the New Testament you have Mary the mother of Jesus, the other Mary who along with Mary Magdalene and Joanna who were the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Anna in Luke’s Birth Narrative is called a “prophetess.” There were many significant women who led the early church. Phillip had 5 daughters called “prophetesses” (Acts 21:9). Gosh, the list is enormous. Phoebe in Romans 16:1 is called a “deacon.” Lydia, the seller of purple goods in Acts 16:14 is the first European convert to Christianity. Where would the church be without women? When I think about the influence of the Christian women in my life compared to the men, there is no question which gender has been more influential.  For instance, like Timothy of 2 Timothy 1:5, my mother and grandmother were supreme models of the faith. There are so many others!

So it’s about time Augusta National catches up to the church! United Methodists were slow enough, but at least we’ve been ordaining women since 1956! My daughter, Narcie, is one of the finest Elders in the UMC that I know. Sure, I’m prejudiced, but I think she can back it up! I applaud the actions of Augusta National. Now what can we do about other inequities? What about salary differences between men and women. In this matter we even have a long way to go in the church. The “stained glass ceiling” of women disproportionately serving smaller less-salaried places is an affront to the Gospel. Equal pay for equal work is a moral issue that must be enforced if we are to look like the Kingdom of God!

I have been reading Tom Wright’s book, How God Became King, and I think it underscores how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension inaugurated a whole new world here and now, plus hereafter. We’re not some utopic but impractical post-millennialists who think that the world will keep getting better then Jesus will come back and say, “Way to go!” Nice thought but our hankering after war and meanness tells me that this is a pipe-dream and a sly way of giving humans the credit for the Second Coming. I’m no pre-millennialist, either, thinking Jesus wants the world to keep going to hell in a hand basket then He’s going to swoop in and save us. This line of thinking actually promotes a laissez-faire attitude toward the ills of the world. It promotes a weird hope that things will get bad enough so Jesus comes back.

No, I think amillennialism best reflects the optimistic but realistic theology of the United Methodist Church. N.T. Wright is on board, too. Read How God Became King. We’re in the millennium now! Jesus is how God became King! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  Why ask us to pray it if it weren’t possible? This is the kingdom of God now and to more fully come. We need to act like it for God to use us in this grand adventure. So, three cheers to Augusta National, but there’s more work to be done – a lot more.

Women Clergy and “Stained Glass Ceiling”

I have been traveling for the last 3 months to all the churches in the Columbia district presiding over charge conferences. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, I continue to hear gender bias and the dreaded phrase, “Some of our people won’t accept a woman as their pastor.” The church has long caused clergywomen to hit the “stained glass ceiling” of serving smaller parishes with lower salaries. As a justice issue, we should all agree that equal work should result in equal pay. I have two children who are Elders in the United Methodist Church, one daughter and one son. Narcie and Josh are both unique and are great! Of course, I’m prejudiced, but let me tell you as objectively as I can that both are better preachers and leaders, pastors and teachers than a lot of the clergy that I know. My daughter should not get short shrift because of her gender! She is excellent and she’s working harder than most male clergy AND she has the prolonged anxiety of a brain tumor on top of everything else. When people talk about women clergy in a disparaging way I want to say, “Give me a break!”

The church hasn’t always been this way about women’s leadership in Chirstianity. In the early church, women earned positions of prominence. During Jesus’ life it was primarily the largesse of working or wealthy women that provided the support that Jesus and the disciples needed (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:2-3). Women were the first to hear the news of the resurrection. Women were there at the prayer session in the Upper Room that led to the birth of the church at Pentecost. Phoebe was a Deacon in the church at Cenchrea that Paul greeted in Romans 16:1 and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist prophesied/preached (Acts 21:8). And where would the church be without Mary, the mother of Christ? Paul sums up the equality of Christian community in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It was also Paul who reminded St. Timothy of the source of his faith, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice,” and, how “from infancy you have known the holy scriptures (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).”

Therefore, if women were so indispensable at the beginning of the church, how can we imagine women being left out today? Unfortunately, the early church acceptance of women dissipated all too rapidly into an enculturated male-dominated entity. We have sadly experienced 2000 years of allowing the secular world shape the sacred. This is all the more reason to celebrate, rather than disparage the influence of women in the church. If it weren’t for the faith of my mother, grandmother, wonderful female Sunday School teachers and mentors (I never had a male teacher in grade school or at church), my faith would have either been nonexistent or desperately inadequate. Women are the core-supporters of many churches. United Methodist Women are invaluable as leaders in ministry and mission. I thank God for what they do in the Columbia District, the Annual Conference, and General church!

We need more women leaders (men, too, for that matter). Thank goodness the United Methodist Church has long supported the call of women into ordained ministry. Still, however, clergywomen are a minority and there are those who wish to keep it that way. Here’s my response to churches that don’t want a female pastor, “Get over it!”

Gender issues and discrimination should be a dead issue in every profession. We have made great strides, but there is room for growth. In 1888 there were only 5 laywomen and no clergywomen at the United Methodist General Conference. After approximately 90 years of almost no representation, in 1976 there were 10 clergywomen and 290 laywomen out of 1000 delegates at General Conference. In 1992, it was 81 clergywomen and 303 laywomen out of 1000. In 1996, it was 107 and 328 respectively. In 2000 the numbers were 112 clergywomen and 212 laywomen. In 2008, of the 996 delegates, 148 were clergywomen and 220 were laywomen. Forty percent of the total delegates were female.

The church certainly has more than 40% women despite the number of those elected. It seems that the gospel hasn’t caught up with us yet in the church. The secular world has laws and changing attitudes in its favor, but we have something even greater – God’s Spirit! The Church should be the leader, as it was in the beginning, in women’s rights!