Yes, it hurt – Part 2 | Dear Diane

by Elouise

Continued from Part 1.  “…I do need to express, however, a part of my experience as a woman in ministry about which I have remained silent.”

Yes, it hurts – Part 2

Perhaps no one else noticed.  In the church which would six months later call me to their ministerial staff, the customary affirmation of call to ministry by licensing was not extended to this graduating seminarian.  I tried to “maintain perspective.”  After all, which was the more significant affirmation:  Licensing with a piece of paper or calling to a ministry position?  But what would be wrong with both?  The answer was simple:  It could have divided a unified church which had never as a body examined the biblical teaching concerning women in ministry.

Functioning in unity is the way we “do church” in this congregation.  Certainly I was a beneficiary of that commitment.  Although I knew some must have been more than a little uncomfortable with my call to the church staff, I still don’t know who they were.  That commitment also carried us through a potentially explosive relocation process in virtual unanimity.  I have been a part of doing church another way, and this is much more pleasant.  But unanimity sometimes has hidden cost.

I longed for the church to examine the role of women in the church as I had done years ago.  I also cringed at the thought of being “the issue.”  I assumed that with the passage of time women’s ordination would cease to be the great political, defining measure of church orthodoxy among Southern Baptist.  I thought we would wake up and be guided by Christ’s model.  I thought we would eventually recognize that Paul’s universal statement on the matter was “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  I thought gentle pastoral teaching would gradually prompt reevaluation of individual traditions.  It hasn’t happened.

On the contrary, I watched in dismay as we became more determined to ignore our differences and embrace diversity.  I soon realized that “embracing diversity” sometimes meant remaining silent on contentious issues, thereby denying their significance.

A decision was made that in the absence of the pastor it would be unwise for me to receive persons coming to the front to make public commitments at the conclusion of worship services.  We needed to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable at such a critical moment.  I believe the conscious motivation was genuine, though misguided, concern for those persons.  But that seemingly minor limitation conveyed a very significant message to me.  We had reached our limit in challenging anyone’s comfort level over women in ministry.  I still wonder how many persons are uncomfortable speaking to a man at that moment of decision.

Far more important for me, that “minor” exclusion impacted my perception of myself as a minister.  I was respected.  My work and thoughts were valued.  But I was not an equal partner, a “real” minister.

After our relocation, I became aware that some prospective members were inquiring about whether or not I was ordained.  The response was to describe our staff ministry team in terms of being servants rather than exercising authority.  Very true, and in my mind, very evasive in that context.  The reassuring bottom line was no, I was not ordained.  And after all, who couldn’t be comfortable with a woman as servant?  I grieved as I watched my hope that we would ever as a church body examine this issue evaporate.

Why would I choose to express these thoughts and feelings at this point in my life?  Some will view them as destructive, even vindictive.  Am I angry?  Yes.  I have remained silent on an issue which changed my life while those who hold a different understanding of scripture are anything but silent.

One of my desires during my staff ministry was to model the reality that God does not call individuals to ministry based on gender.  Instead, I feel I am viewed by many as simply the proof that this congregation is free from the stifling sexism of our sister churches.  I don’t care to be a token in any aspect of my ministry.  My time for silent modeling is over.  I now feel a responsibility to use my voice to say that I believe even my church limits itself by gender; God does not.  And I need to acknowledge it hurt.  Still does.

April 1999

Dear Diane,
The big sister in me (warning sign!) wants to lash out right now!  It seems strangely appropriate.  You were violated.  As a professional.  Maybe I’m angry for you because I know what that’s like.

OK.  I admit it.  I wasn’t prepared for how I’m feeling as I read your words.  I think it’s because too many churches are still playing the same old club games.  The fact that not everyone wants to play them is wonderful.  I just keep wondering who’s going to step up and face the music with us?  There’s no way to get there except by stepping smack into it!  Laying one’s life down on behalf of something different.  Something transparent, truthful, and yes, conflict-inducing.

I’ve contributed to the problem by keeping my mouth shut and playing nice for way too many years.  I often wonder why we in the church have a hard time accepting and living with each other through thick and thin, ups and downs and yes, change.  I’m reminded of how important it was for us as daughters never to break ranks with our parents.  No matter what.  Just keep smiling, keep singing, and keep being good girls.  The kind who rarely make history.

I’m so glad you wrote this piece.  I admit that having talked with you about this more than once, I feared you would never go public with your pain and truth.  I don’t know what the fallout was like when your friends read this.  I do know some of them already got it.  I hope they felt emboldened to tell their own truth about the way this affected them, too.  It’s never just about one woman and “her” pain.  It’s about all of us.  How will WE live together?  Sometimes uncomfortable, yet together.  In truth, not deception or denial.

Well, that’s my screed for today.  I love this piece you wrote.  Not just because of the topic, but because it’s so YOU!

Love and hugs,

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2014