Pastor’s Column: Women and our Denomination
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Friends, we shouldn’t have to say it, but it needs to be affirmed: The Holy Spirit has worked through women and men, from the Old Testament to the New Testament to today, loving and growing and empowering a wide diversity of peoples. An important testament of the Scriptures is God’s great caring for and empowerment of women in His kingdom. Which includes a very long list of servants and examples. From Eve, whose name means “mother of all living beings.” Deborah the Judge. Tamar and her craftiness. Sarai and her laughter. Ruth and her faithfulness. Rebecca. Rachel. Miriam. Rahab. Hagar. Step into the New Testament and the emphasis continues with servants like Priscilla, or Lydia, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and the first evangelists at the tomb, and of course, Mother Mary – the Christotokos, or Bearer of Christ.
Look at the Gospels and Jesus’ interaction with various women are vital expressions of God’s interest and compassion for everyone. But what stands out is how often those women go unnamed… a sad testament to a time when one gender was viewed as less noteworthy. The Cannaanite woman who humbled herself to help her daughter. The Samaritan woman by the well. The poor widow who gave to God her last two pennies. The woman with hemorrhages, who yearned for just the barest touch of the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. Peter’s wife, who jolted out of illness and into service. (Really Peter? Couldn’t have gotten your wife’s name into the New Testament – even in her own story? And you wrote two letters? Come on, brother!)
An important verse for me, one I set to memory long ago, is Galatians 3:28. It’s a moment where Paul summarizes the liberating grace of Christ – that is, how Jesus sets us free from the world, its chains, its prejudices, its constrictions – and instead in Him we are “set loose” in God’s Spirit producing good fruits for this Kingdom.
That verse: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Again, this is a moment where Paul takes us to the mountain top, and in one sentence, blows through the sorts of societal barriers that have been overcome and broken down in the victory of Christ over sin. That whether one was of Jewish descent, or a Gentile (a HUUUUGE deal for Jewish-Christians), whether you were in servitude, or of wealth and security, whether woman or man, we all share unity together in the body of Christ — not in classes or divisions, but in equality, respect, health and wholeness. That’s what Jesus wins for us – the former impediments of a sin-sick world fall away at the victorious feet of Jesus!
Why this build up about gender equality?
I want to encourage you to take a few minutes and watch a video produced by the leadership of our Conference and the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, speaking to the recent failure of a pair of pieces of denominational legislation aimed at underscoring our church’s commitment to the equal status of women and girls in our congregations. There are several good articles that will articulate this legislation better than I do here (I’ll link a couple below), but the gist of that legislation was to add a pair of amendments to our constitution, one affirming “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God” and that the UMC will “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large,” and a second amendment stating no member of a UMC shall be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status or economic condition.”
Both amendments came out of the General Conference held two years ago in Portland, and required 2/3 support subsequently by all Annual Conferences in our denomination to be ratified. Each passed with ease in the PNW, but more conservative conferences, such as in Texas and Georgia, as well as international conferences in Africa and SE Asia, opposed the legislation. It is believed that the language refusing to exclude anyone on the basis of their marital status somehow would become a loophole for the inclusion of gay peoples, and that is the likely reason why these amendments failed (it’s worth noting, sexuality is not listed in the new amendment).
The Council of Bishops issued a statement of disappointment on the two amendments’ failure, saying, ““While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our church.”
The failure to support this language on equality, particularly gender equality, appears rather tone-deaf in a moment in society where sexual harassment in the workplace has been exposed across the national stage, and the #MeToo movement has reminded us how common these offenses are. We continue to grow in awareness and response to domestic violence issues as a culture, and of course, the awful reality of sexual abuse suffered by so many women and girls in our nation and our world is common news. So much of this suffering stems from a corrupt view insisting on gender inequality.
But that’s not what Jesus grants us. He welcomes us in, regardless of race or nation, gender or social status. Jesus’ constant message is the value God places on each person – everyone invited into God’s embrace as a daughter or a son, welcomed and affirmed as sharing in the image of God in which we all have been created!
A final word – I was grateful that some at Cornerstone noticed these amendments’ failure – and voiced their disappointment! One member caught me right at the doors post-worship, and I could see the fire in her eyes. I also shared this news with our Leadership team, so they were aware. For that’s my purpose here – to grow awareness about the issues and struggles happening within our larger denomination. Cornerstone is not an independent parish – but we are connected and connectional, and I am quick to affirm that all women and girls are welcome in the life of our congregation. I am grateful for so many of the women who serve in our midst as leaders, past and present. Ours is a church that affirms God’s work and ministry in and through women – the same as men. But again – better to consider, read, pray and discern, than be in the dark about these issues.
An article first reporting on these amendments’ failures can be found here:
An article of response:
And the video by our Bishop and leadership can be found here:
Thank you friends, for keeping in the know – and thank you for the ways we work together to allow different peoples to come in our doors, to be part of the life of this Church, and to make room for God to move and work as the Holy Spirit sees fit. As I have preached before, “God uses whom God chooses!”
Grateful to be on the journey together,
Pastor James Murphy