By now you might have heard about the comments John MacArthur made regarding Beth Moore. If you have not, I won’t rehearse them here; search those two names and the phrase “Go home” and you will find the information you need. In some circles, MacArthur’s comments stirred up another conversation about women in ecclesiastical office. I hope that by my life and practice, my position on this question is clear and lived.
But this event does give me occasion to reflect on something I’ve wrestled with since my ordination in the CRCNA about a year ago. The denomination I serve under officially holds that “there are two different positions and convictions on this issue, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.” (1) This means that within the CRCNA there are certain churches and classes that choose to ordain women into office (deacon, elder, and minister), and other congregations and classes who choose not to. And again, both positions are seen as equally valid and biblical within the polity of the CRCNA.
To a certain degree, I resonate with the biblical hermeneutic (2) this position necessitates (if not with the results of the hermeneutic in this case). It recognizes that Scripture often dodges our tendencies toward pigeon-holed interpretation. It acknowledges the Spirit-influenced nuance involved in reading and interpreting Scripture and allows for tension (even disagreement) within the body of Christ. It returns us again and again to the text and forces us to admit that we can never exhaust the intricacies of God’s Word. It even leaves room for mystery.
And yet. The felt reality of the CRCNA’s position polarizes churches and classes and people. And most strikingly to me, it leaves potential spaces where ordained women walk into rooms full of people who may disagree with their very being there.
Last Thursday, I attended my local classis meeting, and the minute I walked in I felt insecure. For some reason, whenever I enter a room containing multiple pastors, I’m immediately struck with an acute form of imposter syndrome. I feel I do not belong, and I feel that the other pastors in the room think the same thing of me. Now, this feeling has nothing to do with the other people in the room. Our classis is lovely—full of good deacons, elders, and pastors (women and men). I’m glad to be a part of it! My feelings in that moment were all of my own making, a caustic mix of my inner critic and assumed or transferred expectations. So, I took a deep breath while I stood in the back of the room and quieted that critical inner voice. Then I sat down, and I was fine.
But sister colleagues of mine in the CRCNA enter spaces within our denomination where there are other people in the room (or virtual room, i.e. social media groups) who protest, actively or passively, a woman pastor’s existence. I share the story of my classis experience because no matter how I might feel, no one actually protests my ordination or calling; no one says I do not belong. This isn’t the case for some women in certain denominational spaces.
I can’t imagine what this feels like. I wish pastors in the CRCNA who are women didn’t have to experience this. I hope that I communicate, in what I say and in what I do, that I’m proud to do the work of the church alongside (and at times, under the leadership of) pastors, elders, and deacons who are women.
I don’t want to come across here as self-congratulatory. I also recognize that I have siblings in Christ in my own denomination and around the world who disagree with me, and who, like me, are striving to serve Jesus’ gospel faithfully. And I’m not trying to position myself as an advocate who understands the situation perfectly. I only want to affirm the calling of the many pastors I know and serve alongside who preach—who live—the gospel, and who are also women. They are called by God.
(2) Hermeneutic is a jargon-y word that means “a method of interpretation.”
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.