Women

Called to Lead

IT IS EASY, and a lot more comfortable, to identify and name dysfunction outside your family. It’s an entirely different endeavor, however, to label inappropriate behavior in your own home.

That’s the situation I find myself in as a lifelong member of the black Baptist tradition—one that, by and large, refuses to ordain women ministers and call them into the pastorate. I can no longer keep silent. My spirit won’t let me be quiet about a system where injustice is nurtured.

Women are the backbone of African- American Baptist congregational life, yet they traditionally have been blocked from ordained ministry. I’ve watched this for years in Kentucky where I was born, raised, and currently live; experienced it in other places where I have resided; and heard the same story from Baptist female colleagues in ministry around the country. The same is also true in many white Baptist congregations, such as those affiliated with the Southern Baptist tradition. But I’m speaking here about the world I know personally.

Ironically, some of these black congregations and pastors who are unwilling to honor God’s call on the lives of women seeking ordination are the same ones who are quick to name a plethora of injustices perpetrated against black people as a race, and to demand quick resolution.

Doors for women called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have opened a little in recent decades. More women are being licensed, the precursor to ordination in the Baptist structure. But the process usually stops there, and women are left patiently waiting to be blessed into the fold. These “ladies in waiting” are allowed to lead ministries, teach, and occasionally preach, but rarely permitted to go beyond that.

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Vatican: Female Cardinals Aren't 'Even Remotely Realistic'

Cardinals enter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2013 at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

The Vatican on Monday moved to quash speculation that at least two women would be among the cardinals that Pope Francis will name in February, saying such a move was “not a realistic possibility.”

Over the weekend, Irish media reported that Francis could name Linda Hogan and Mary McAleese as cardinals. Both are associated with Trinity College in Dublin: Hogan as a professor of ecumenism, and McAleese, the former president of Ireland, as a former professor.

Some Italian media that carried the story speculated that Cecile Kyenge, the Congo-born Italian minister of integration, could be a candidate as well. Kyenge is a devout Catholic and a graduate of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

Could Pope Francis Make Women Cardinals? A Pipe Dream, and an Opening

Cardinals enter “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, March 12, 2013, at Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”

On Scripture: Beaten, Battered, and Burned Before I Am Helped

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
Traumatized women sit on a bed in a bedroom. ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

As the proliferation of pink points to October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, shades of purple warn us not to forget Domestic Violence Awareness. The story in the Gospel of Luke sheds light on what tenacity, in any form, can accomplish. The widow did not cease in her efforts. Someone had wronged her; and she wanted the situation to be made right. We must be equally diligent in our determination to obliterate domestic violence. We must not become comfortable with reporting abuse after the fact. Our judicial officials, police personnel, school counselors, religious institutions to name a few, must take even the slightest whisper of harm seriously. We must not succumb to the foolish reasoning that “snitching” will put more African American men in prison. If we keep talking, teaching, sharing, and behaving as good stewards of God’s creation, there is nothing or no one to prevent us from getting a handle on domestic violence — and not putting an abusive hand on each other.

Survivors of domestic violence cope in many ways. Some engage in substance abuse while others tend to “over-spiritualize” their experiences. My mother chose to commit suicide to deal with her pain. Today, Yvette Cade travels the country speaking about her life. She is on the mend physically, but she is still afraid. Nonetheless, through her fear, she lifts her voice. Not one more person should have be battered or bruised before someone dares to help. Before we dare to help.

Jewish Feminists Say They’d Accept Western Wall Prayer Compromise

RNS photo by Michele Chabin
Women praying at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.

For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.

After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Unlawful Entry

OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”

The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.

Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.

For the next hour the police threatened us with felony charges, and we chanted complicated ditties on Big Oil, Mother Earth, and the merits of transparency in a democracy. Then they slipped plastic cuffs over our wrists and charged us with “unlawful entry.”

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Unfinished Business

John Howard Yoder

JOHN HOWARD YODER, who died in 1997, was a theological educator, ethicist, historian, and biblical scholar. He is best known for his 1972 masterpiece The Politics of Jesus, his radical Christian pacifism, his influence on theological giants such as Stanley Hauerwas, and his advocacy of Anabaptist perspectives within the Mennonite community and beyond. Many testify that Yoder’s exposition of the gospel allowed them to grasp radically good news in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

There is a dark cloud over Yoder’s legacy, however, that refuses to dissipate. Survivors of Yoder’s sexual abuse and other advocates have renewed their calls for the Mennonite Church, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), to revisit unfinished business with his legacy.

On Aug. 19, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Ervin Stutzman, announced the formation of “a discernment group to guide a process that we hope will contribute to healing for victims of John Howard Yoder’s abuse as well as others deeply hurt by his harmful behavior. We hope this work will lead to church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well.”

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On Scripture: The Power of Love

Woman praising, irima / Shutterstock.com
Woman praising, irima / Shutterstock.com

We know neither her name nor the location from which she comes. All we know is that she was “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years,” and that, “[s]he was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” (Lk. 13:11) We don’t know from the text exactly what causes this spirit to lash out at this woman. We do know, though, the power of this spirit is to slowly and deliberately destroy this woman’s life. Whether this spirit manifesting its wicked power in this way is a result of the woman’s sinfulness or was it simply the way she was born we do not know. So weighted down by its power is she that she can’t “stand up straight.”

All we know is that bent over, exhausted, worn, and arid from the despair that comes from the power of this spirit, pushed to the margins of society, and dead inside, this woman comes in from the heat of the day to seek shelter in the synagogue.

They are nameless when they arrive at Magdalene. Seeking shelter – relief – from the power of the spirit whose work it had been to destroy them through drugs and prostitution, they come completely exhausted and desperate. Like the woman in the text, these women of Magdalene live on the edge between death and life. Living in the shadows, under the oppressive weight of the spirit whose power it had been to press the life right out of them, these women, like the woman in this text from Luke, “can’t stand up straight.”

What About the Women?

POPE FRANCIS HAS created a new environment in the church. Beginning with asking all the people in St. Peter’s Square to bless him, living in a humble apartment and not the papal palace, placing his own phone calls, paying his own bills, giving simple daily homilies, having conversations with many people, and joyfully mingling with people: These all characterize an incredibly different pope. What has been even more attractive about Pope Francis than his style has been what he has said.

Pope Francis is clearly not on a mission to preserve the status quo. He’s been outspoken about the need for change in the world and in the church. In this he has not been a “professional denouncer.” Rather, he always contrasts what needs to change with the opportunity to be so much more than we are now. Whether it is oppressive global economic policy or clerical ambition, Pope Francis points out that we are called to something more noble and satisfying. The call of Christ is to be our best self. Francis reminds us, “God always forgives. Don’t forget this. God always forgives.”

Another striking aspect of Pope Francis is his constant and passionate concern for people who are poor and vulnerable and his reminder of our responsibilities to them. Whether he is talking to world leaders, bishops, or general audiences, his love of poor people and his firsthand knowledge of their challenges and how we should respond is profound.

HOW THIS PAPACY will handle what are generally labeled “women’s issues” and the ability of women to fully utilize their talents in the church has yet to unfold. Many are prayerfully watching how he will deal with issues such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious investigation, the role of women in the church, both lay and religious, and women in leadership.

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Pastor, Prophet, Pope

For Catholics—and many others—what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome. The seating of a new pope has the power to affect believers across the globe, in ways direct, indirect, and unpredictable. And when a surprising sea change occurs in a hide-bound, steeped-in-tradition place like the Vatican—the unexpected resignation of a pope, the selection of a Jesuit from the Americas as his replacement, and the powerful symbolism of a new leader who literally stoops to wash a Muslim woman’s feet—people of faith of all traditions sit up and take notice.

In these early days of Francis’ papacy, we asked three prominent Catholic thinkers and leaders to help us understand what it all might mean. How will the spirit of reform that has marked Pope Francis’ first few months in office affect the worldwide church? Will change at the top trickle down to parishes and neighborhoods here in the United States and elsewhere? And what will Francis’ leadership mean not only for Catholics, but for all people of faith engaged in the work of making justice and building peace? The Editors

CATHOLICS AROUND THE WORLD are transfixed by Pope Francis. We love his simplicity of life, his humble faith, his welcoming attitude to all, and his way of being Christian in the contemporary world that takes its bearings from the poor. Lace and gilt are no longer fashion statements at the Vatican. From his small apartment, the pope speaks bluntly about worrying less about rules and more about love. An utterly refreshing breeze blows through the Catholic Church.

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