Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Church of Her Own

Over at RevGals this week there was a book discussion on Sarah Sentilles "A Church of Her Own." Not surprisingly, there were some pretty passionate responses. I understand where this emotion and frustration comes from, but I found Sentilles' work a bit over-the-top.

I am definitely among those who have seen the prejudice against women as leaders and pastors in larger evangelical churches. I'm in the nondenominational side of church life, more towards the conservative side (though I am proud to wear the label "progressive"!!) What I have seen is that in many of these churches, that the men are in positions which are "pastoral" and the women are in positions which are "directors" or "administrators" -- even though they are teaching, leading and caring for teams of volunteers, children, etc. Makes. me. nuts.

I am working very hard with my spiritual director to name prejudice for what it is, and then to proclaim God's forgiveness for my attitudes, and to extend God's forgiveness towards others. I guess I would like to see a more reconciling spirit in this book. Lord willing, perhaps my journey in this arena will be in a book which is written in that Spirit. It seems unnecessary to paint all churches and all male clergy with the same brush. It smacks of reverse discrimination.

On the positive side, here is something that I do agree with in her book: from Chapter Six on Language, page 129

"Seeing a woman in the pulpit not only brings us up against our implicit or explicit assumptions about the categories "minister" and "woman," it also challenges how we think about God."
further down...
"Most liturgical language refers to God as male - God is called 'He," "lord," "Father," "King" - and prayers in many churches use the pronoun "he" or the words "man" or mankind" to refer to human beings. When pressed proponents of this kind of male-only, exclusive language insist that "men" is a generic, gender-neutral term. ...Insisting that "men" means everyone is a kind of double-talk: "Men" means all of us, but only men can get ordained."
~ o ~

These quotes are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a problem with gender-inclusive language in some corners simply because God was always imaged as male to the patriarchal society. So what was historical context must continue as present-day context? I don't think so! That is simply bad hermeneutics! Sentilles does, to her credit, discuss some of the alternative namings of God but admits that liturgically that pesky ol' pronoun problem keeps creeping up.

One of the issues we wrestled with in Systematic Theology class was the issue of using the roles of God as names limits the infinity of God (God is not just Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer but is also Judge, Renewer, Savior, etc etc). We get into ontological problems in our desire to escape the limits of the English language.

As Sentilles points out, referring to God in male-only language has stifled the perceptions of us all in accepting that a woman can speak to/for God. In discussing this with my college student and her peers, this has become a bigger issue that I think we understand. They are not willing to tolerate invisibility or bias any more... I do pray that her generation will not be wrestling with the battles of insecurity and poor exegesis!

I'm choosing to stand firm, think positively for my daughters' generation, and to model acceptance and grace.


1 comment:

Mompriest said...

I did not read the book...but a few things your reflection evoke in me: I have, for the last 14 years used gender neutral language for God. At the BE 2.0 our facilitator suggested that neutral language for God invites people to think of God in the gender of their preference...so for some God will remain male. She (facilitator) suggested that it is more appropriate to name God in mulitple ways: male, female, father, mother, etc. and gave us scriptural references for this. So we might pray: God our Mother....and then God our Father...(something I've been playing around with when I do the Sunday Prayers for RevGals).

Another thing: Trinitarian language like, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifer (our word) can be expressions of some of the movements of God, but these words diminish what is unique about Christianity - that God is person(s) and therefore relational. So, while I like Creator, et al, I would never using them exclusively....but always in a rotation with other words for the Trinity, including Father, Son, and Holy Spirit....

sounds like you have some food for thought - and certainly triggered the same in me.