Once upon a time a woman was invited to write a book on gender that her church wanted to publish. She was told she could write whatever she wanted about women, but she had to agree not to mention the O-word, for the ordination of women was not a subject the church wished to consider. And so she did. But then the Unhappy People found out who she was and decided they didn’t want a book from such a woman after all.Sometime later the woman wrote her own book. She dared to raise the question of the ordination of women in the church in which she had been raised, and she dared to use the words “not in God’s lifetime” to describe its likelihood. The phrase brought a smile to many. But some found it blasphemous. The Unhappy People accused the woman of submitting her church to intellectual ridicule, and they charged her with false teaching, for the rule in that church was silence—silence from women and silence about the O-word.
After a while the woman found another church. Back in the church she left other women continued to ask questions, though more gently than the woman had. Even some pastors were bold enough to ask questions. But the rule remains the rule.
When asked to offer some thoughts to wrap up the Pentecost issue of the Daystar Journal, whose theme is the ordination of women in the Missouri Synod, the phrase that immediately came to mind was “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s admittedly an odd commentary from a historian, for tracking change is what we do. Is nothing different in Missouri almost forty years after women were finally given the franchise in congregations and the right to serve on commissions and boards of the church?
Women do now serve on various boards of the synod, from the Board of Directors to boards of regents and even the CTCR. But convention resolutions on the question of women’s service—what they may and may not do in their local congregations—serve to reinforce the contentious nature of such service, which remains widely divergent across the synod. In and of themselves resolutions resolve (as in settle) nothing, yet the synod speaks through them.
More troubling, then, is the late resolution from this summer’s convention that overwhelmingly affirmed the inerrancy of scripture. It is this principle that underlies the synod’s resistance to break its silence on the question of ordaining women, for to hold discussion would be an invitation to open the scriptures and take seriously all passages, not only a few. The same principle requires the silence, for the church needs to mean what it says. How better to do so than to limit the service of women as it understands scripture directs?
Fifty years ago Missouri borrowed the Reformed notion of the order of creation to determine the proper role of women in the church. This widely held belief persists as a powerful argument to hold gender difference more significant than either spiritual gifts or call of God in identifying those eligible for ordained ministry. Despite the ballyhoo that equal numbers of women and men are participating in the current CTCR consultation on the scriptural relationship of man and woman, expect it to come to no new conclusions. Reaffirmation of its 1985 study, Women in the Church, will keep the question of the ordination of women off the table at which women so badly wish to sit. Rather, the subordination of women will remain the norm in Missouri.
And in declaring once again it knows the will of God, the church will continue to deny itself the gifts of women who, created in the image of God, seek only to carry the good news as women did that first Easter morning. Thank God those women broke the rule.