As United Methodists, we’re entering General Conference season. A time when we discuss… and debate… and perhaps bicker and squabble… but at our best “Holy Conference” – listening deeply, sharing openly about our faith and the connectional structure known at the United Methodist Church.
We are a worldwide body with an amazing amount of diversity in our membership as a whole, even as our particular congregations tend towards homogeneous groupings. Like many religious groups, we grapple over a number of things, how we organize, how we budget, and in particular GLBTQ issues.
Sometimes in the midst of our “Holy Conferencing” its easy to forget about past times of struggle. We forget that we United Methodists have often been at the forefront of things like the ordination of women and that even today this is hardly a settled question in other denominations. (For example – see below for some links regarding recent comments by evangelical leader John Piper.)
I don’t think it was specifically a response to Piper’s comments, but a seminary peer, Kate Hanch, wrote a wonderful piece that is published in the Associate Baptist Press. She writes about the importance of “Martha Stearns Marshall Month” – a celebration of women’s leadership in Baptists churches. I encourage you to read her full article here but I’ve pulled some key paragraphs below.
As we walk through General Conference season in the UMC, I encourage you to let these words of wisdom from my friend inform our conversations on a variety of topics:
The proclamation of Baptist women in the pulpit affects our theology more than we realize. When we hear people from all walks of life proclaim how God works through them and through Scripture, we testify to a God who transcends our perceptions and our claims. We proclaim a God bigger than we can imagine.
While God transcends gender, God’s essence embodies both genders. This connects with Scripture in creation — God made people in God’s own image. When we allow the Body of Christ to function according to each individual’s gifts, we are challenged, encouraged and we participate more fully in the movement of a Triune God.
The celebration of women in the pulpit does not mean that Christianity or the church is feminized. In fact, it means that the body of believers trusts God’s working in the lives of fellow Christians, both men and women.
I am moved by Kate’s words. I sense the love and grace and passion of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in them. Having had the privilege of hearing her preach and shared our struggles with crafting sermons in our preaching class, I can see her smile and her deep hope as she proclaims these words.
And candidly, I don’t get that same feeling when I hear Evangelical leader John Piper insisting that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel” Here, btw is link to a great response piece to Piper’s comments rooted in Scripture.
In our conversations, might we strive for our words to share love, grace and hope? Might we feel power beyond our own, instead of securing and protecting our own power?
As members of the UMC, I think we can take some credit for having, for the most part, worked through these kinds of debates on women and ordination. Yet, it is my hope that by looking at these debates we might gain insight to our own current debates – remembering that “we proclaim a God bigger than we can imagine” – so maybe we can relax a bit on our differences, trust the Spirit to guide us and celebrate our diversities. Blessings on your journey.