When the news of my mom’s death spread throughout my congregation and the naval base in Port Hueneme, Calif., I began to learn about the kindred spirit that exists among women who have lost their mothers. These women cried with me and told me, “There is something deep that happens in our souls when a woman loses her mother.” All of these women talked of mothers who loved them and modeled that every woman can be all that God wants her to be.
As I walked out the church door that late summer Sunday morning, my heart was crushed and the tears flowed. This had been a special place where I had grown in my relationship to Christ, developed valued friendships and committed myself to serve. How did it come to this?
My first lesson on the dangerous pitfalls of sexual sin and subsequent public scandal came one ordinary day in 1988. I arrived home from church to my dad sitting in his comfy chair, mesmerized and leaning close to the television. Popular televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was confessing to millions of people that he had sinned against God with a prostitute. He knelt on the podium with tears streaming down his face and beseeched God to forgive him.
Is there a healthy balance somewhere between the Billy Graham rule and nothing at all? Could we, instead of creating a rule that worked well for one man at a very specific time in history, come up with something holistic and inclusive? Could we come up with an ethic that acknowledges the needs and experiences of Christian men and women today?
As a fourth grader at a local public school, I got into a classroom debate over the rights of women, and in particular, the right of mothers to work outside the home once they have children. The other outspoken Christian in my class, a boy hailing from an extremely conservative home, stated with deliberate clarity that a woman’s place once she had children was at home, tending to said children.
Throughout history, charismatic men and women of God have risen up, almost out of nowhere, to lead spiritual movements and shape theological discourse. These leaders often build churches and large followings before the institutional church pulls them in for a chat. The air is tense, awkward. At some point in the conversation someone asks a deceptively simple question: “Who gives you the authority to do the work you are doing?”
I once worked as a young adult director in a church. This church was and continues to be a great church, filled with people who love God, one another, and the world with genuine affection and generosity. During the time I worked as a director, they gave me freedom to lead and preach and dream with great liberty. But because they did not license women as pastors, I was called a director. While my male friends got licensed, sought ordination, and received recognition for being ministers of the gospel, I did not.