Saturday, March 4, 2023

Women in Ministry

One many troubling aspects of organized religion is how embrace and exclusion are managed. In religious societies, just as in other groups, there are boundaries about who is "in" and who is "out." Sometimes those who are "in" cross certain lines set by others in the organization and are put "out." We see this very clearly illustrated in recent news, and it reminds me of how remarkable the practice of open ordination is in a world of exclusion.

In January of this year, Sally Azar became the first female pastor in the Holy Land after she was ordained in a Lutheran Church ceremony in Jerusalem. Perhaps it would be better to qualify it, saying that she's the first known Palestinian woman in the Holy Land to be ordained. Since the Universal Life Church has been ordaining people since 1962, it's entirely possible that someone preceded her. In any case, the fact that this made the news demonstrates the reality of the longstanding, fundamental injustice that has been carried out against women in all parts of the world. Exclusion of women from ordained ministry continues to be a problem around the world, including in the United States. 

Recently, Saddleback Community Church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for the offense of having ordained three women in May 2021, and subsequently bringing on Stacie Wood as a "teaching pastor." Although the SBC is a denomination that practices congregational government, and theoretically the local churches should have the autonomy to ordain anyone they find fit, the SBC has become increasingly conservative since the 1970s. The official line is that women are not eligible for ordained ministry, and therefore Saddleback is “no longer in friendly cooperation” with the other churches of the denomination. It's being reported that Saddleback plans to appeal the decision, but quite frankly it makes little sense to this writer that they make the effort. The church brings more to the SBC than the SBC provides the church, and their are plenty of other denominations out there that would better align with Saddleback's perspective. And, there's always the independent, nondenominational route that could be explored. 

Yet another barrier to be overcome is that of embracing transgender people into ordained ministry. In Philippines this past February the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) ordained its first transwoman clergy at the communion's National Cathedral.

Slowly but surely these obstacles are being overcome, but at such a slow and painful pace, and with some regression, as in the case of the SBC. Some churches and denominations are opening up, while others are hardening their stance against embracing people who differ from a preconceived norm. All can cite scripture to support their case. Through all of this, the Universal Life Church has consistently welcomed everyone who asks to the ordained ministry. We can't provide financial resources or guarantee a pulpit, but we believe in the right of everyone to strive for their fullest potential, whoever they are. 

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