Women In Office: Continuing the Conversation

As Bob De Moor points out in his editorial, halting discussion about women’s participation in the leadership of the church does not make for a real Sabbath. It just allows pain to keep festering —no matter what “side” of the issue you happen to be on. Rather, the church needs to keep talking, to continue seeking ways we can move forward together in unity. With that in mind, The Banner has asked two writers to think out loud about Synod 2006’s decisions regarding women in the church and about how the church can respond to where we’re at today. I never went to Synod. I hated politics and controversy. I stayed away from people I viewed as “rebellious radicals,” and considered women in seminary among “those militant ones.” It took a while for God to break through my defenses. It took eight years, in fact.

With time it became harder to push down the conflict inside. I felt compelled to learn more of the Scriptures, more than I could learn on my own or from a group Bible study.

Seminary seemed the only place to do that. But what would I do with such an education? Was the Lord calling me to teach biblical studies at a college somewhere? Since teaching was a gift I enjoyed, I thought that must be it.

About halfway through seminary I finally realized something was wrong. I was on the wrong track somehow. I needed to be more involved with people and their lives.

That opportunity came during a summer assignment in a hospital chaplaincy ministry that affirmed my gifts. I had never before experienced such a deep sense of fulfillment. The peace inside has never left me. I had 13 years’ experience working in a hospital, and chaplaincy seemed like a perfect fit. But then I discovered that hospitals were now requiring their chaplains to be ordained. What now?

Eight years of education down the drain? I did not want to hear the advice being given, but it was coming from all sides: “Go through the ordination process.”

I pleaded, “Lord, I don’t want to become one of those!” The continual road blocks made the last semester at seminary a difficult one. I learned courage and humility in a crash course as the Lord encouraged me in so many ways. I even had a job offer before graduation.

The senior citizens I now work with received me with open arms while I was still learning to “own” my calling. I think I’m there now. I find it interesting that these mature Christians are the most supportive of me as an ordained woman. They have taught me much about love, acceptance, and inclusiveness, which brings a joy to my work that I would wish for everyone.

My life has radically changed. Not many people believe me anymore when I tell them that I’m basically a shy person. I’m so different today that I still have times when I don’t recognize myself. I wouldn’t go back for anything.

I am much more in line with who God made me to be. Although that is certainly uncomfortable for some, I trust that God knows what he is doing. Like Martin Luther, I have to say, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” I have learned that I would rather experience some conflict on the outside than to have conflict in my soul. There’s a great peace in knowing I am just where God wants me to be.

Women are not a threat. Women could, in fact, be a safety net, a part of the system of checks and balances needed in all aspects of church life. God gave us, men and women, as gifts to each other, to be a team.

Women are not the enemy. Jesus affirmed this by his revolutionary response to the women who supported his ministry. By his acceptance and love, Jesus was the antithesis of the Jewish culture of his day. Jesus once again proclaimed a “you have heard . . . but I say to you” revision of the law. He confirmed God’s original declaration that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Paul also recognized the God who shows no favoritism in Jesus when he declared that now “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Where do we go from here? If the Christian Reformed Church is to move in the direction of wholeness, we have to be able to confront the reality of our brokenness. And many of us cannot see that we are broken. We are so fearful that life will not continue as we know it.

We do need to keep talking. Synod’s actions are seen by many in this country as illegal, as stifling people’s right to free speech (see editorial, p. 6). When those around us see that we do not have justice in our own ranks, what will we have to offer them? How can we repair our witness to society? Can we do without the fullness of the gifts given by the Spirit to both men and women for God’s work in this time and place? Can we afford to do without half our resources?

The CRC has a rich heritage of solid doctrine. We have enjoyed the benefits of some of Christendom’s great thinkers. In addition to this, we need to rebalance our faith with head and heart, allowing room for the Spirit of God to work in each of us. We can learn to trust the living, breathing, moving, progressing Word of God, the heart of the Holy Spirit a little more—and our heads a little less.

—Rev. Ardean Brock

 

 

Our denomination has validated both sides on the issue of whether women can be ordained to all offices of the church, but I would rather not take a side. I don’t want to be defined by or heard because of where I stand on the question of women’s ordination, even though I acknowledge that I’m more against women being ordained than I am for it.

I’m aware of the reasons for and against the ordination of women and have read the solid work on this issue produced for synod more than a decade ago. I lean more toward women not being ordained because more people who I respect in their ability to interpret the Bible tend to be against women in office. Yet I have studied the Bible long enough to know that the issue is not simply about hearing the right argument and having the right way of interpreting the Bible.

There are many other questions involved, not the least of which is how the church and society have treated females in the past.

I also realize that, as a female, I have a unique position in responding to the misconception that one’s position on women in office is directly related to how sexist one is.

As much as I cared about Synod 2006’s discussion concerning women in office, I did not personally want to be present for it. I had witnessed too many hurt by it, too many people arguing over it, and too many churches split over it. I was expecting the discussion to be more of the same and was astounded when the advisory committee came to the floor of synod with a united report. Our denomination has fought over this issue for years, and every decision has come with much toil and prayer. So I was astounded again when synod voted to change the Church Order to freely allow women’s ordination; after all, there were other details that did not quite fit, not the least of which was the request to take a “Sabbath” on discussing the issue. Yet that impractical request was a gallant effort to give the church a rest.

As the details were being worked out on the floor of synod, things started to unravel; the spirit of the report and the consensus it represented started to flounder. Practical details got in the way. Questioning arose concerning fairness. People began to feel betrayed. Those against women in office felt that they had given up something in compromise, while the other side had not given proportionally. Those for women in office felt that any decision that kept women from all opportunities to use their gifts was a betrayal. As everyone returned to their churches and classes (church regions), I wonder how they explained what happened on the floor of Synod.

I pray that instead of claiming how “those people” hurt the church and prevented them from moving forward, they used words of grace, reported trying to deliberate together for the best of all the church, and prayed about how to live with the changes brought about by Synod.

Synod’s decision to take the word male out of the Church Order has few, if any, practical implications for women seeking ordination: women aren’t allowed to do any more because of it. Yet for those against women in office, it means the Church Order has been changed to condone something they believe is theologically wrong.

Synod’s decision has no practical implications for my own life. I have a master-of-divinity degree because it gave me the time and ability to do ministry while studying what I loved, but I have no desire to be ordained. Neither the Church Order nor my local church has prevented my gifts from being used or appreciated. Thus I find problematic the argument that women must be ordained in order to use their gifts. I do acknowledge that as a church we have not always made space for everyone to use her gifts and be a blessing to others. Yet opportunity and encouragement to use one’s gifts should be given to everyone in the church, not just to those who are ordained.

What I hope for the church is that we do not define ourselves by the issue of women in office, even as much as we also cannot ignore the situation. After all, the issue has been a painful part of our history. In our attempts to be faithful, we have, albeit unintentionally, caused hurt. I pray that we might be more concerned with hearing each other’s desires to be faithful in hearing the Word of God and using our gifts than in convincing others of the “right” side of the issue.

In order for us to move forward as a church, we must be gracious to those who unintentionally hurt us. And we must hear and care about the pain and heart-rending decisions and/or uncertainty in which everyone has participated.

I pray that as we move forward no one side will “win” on this issue, but that the good of the whole CRC might be the outcome. I hope everyone’s gifts, regardless of ethnicity or ordination or gender or age, might be used to serve God and bless others.

—Brenda Heyink

For Discussion
  1. The purpose of these articles is to continue the conversation regarding women in office. What did these two women agree on? What did they value differently? What was their primary concern?
  2. What is your primary concern?
  3. In your opinion, what would it take for both sides to work together for the good of the whole church?

About the Authors

Rev. Ardean Brock is a chaplain for Holland Home, a retirement complex in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Brenda Heyink has a master-of-divinity degree from Calvin Theological Seminary and is working toward her doctoral degree in Old Testament at the Free University in the Netherlands, where she lives in an intentional Christian community in inner-city Amsterdam.

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