It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.
Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of our Conference of Bishops.
As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism.
This is good news! Women in ministry amplify the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. They approach Scripture in a way that men do not.* When they celebrate the Eucharist, their prayer emphasizes Christ’s humanity rather than his masculinity. Their presences in the pulpit shines a light into the lives of other women, and can be directly linked to increased self-esteem and achievement among women who worship in communities with female leadership.
The Spirit is at work, and She is guiding the Church forward. Thanks be go God!
At the same time, though, even denominations that ordain women continue to do injustice to women. That same RNS article reports the achievement and wage gap between men and women in ministry. In my own synod, women are more likely to be in part-time calls and to receive a smaller compensation package than male pastors.
On top of that, women in ministry also face the same sexual harassment as women working outside the Church. I commend to your attention this video produced by the North Carolina synod, in which male pastors read comments that had been shared by their female colleagues:
I know that this problem is not limited to Lutherans in North Carolina; I’ve heard some of the comments directed at women interviewing for their first call across the ELCA. Women in my own synod have heard far worse than the comments in this video. Women in the United Methodist Church have heard worse from clergy serving on their Boards of Ordained Ministry.
Let this sink in. Women have been in ministry since the time of Christ. Saint Mary Magdalene was the first to preach the Gospel in its entirety: that Christ, though crucified, had risen from the dead. She is the Apostle to the Apostles. And yet those eleven men did not believe her. Nearly two thousand years later, the Church is still hesitant to believe women, still reluctant to acknowledge their full humanity, still unwilling to let them preach.
But the Spirit is calling us onward.
Much as with the Protestant Reformation, this current revolution in the Church is cause for celebration but also continued renewal. We’ve come along way in fifty years. But the Spirit is not done with us yet. She’s calling us forward, calling us to keep working, and calling us to continue this good work.
*One brief but major example pertaining to motherhood: my understanding of what it means for Christ to feed us with his Body and Blood is inherently different from a woman who has mothered and fed a child. I will never experience what it is like to be Christ-like in that way.