As a woman preparing to seek ordination to the pastoral office in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I find myself encountering skepticism — a skepticism about my real identity. In light of my gender and career objective, some people immediately assume that I am a radical feminist. Others are not sure, so they conduct a stakeout, patiently waiting to see what I’ll say or do. It seems as if people are listening to every nuance of what I say, trying to uncover a feminist agenda. I feel scrutinized.
My gender raises questions about my theology, associates me with a cause, and raises questions about my integrity. And all of this happens before I say a word.
“Well,” I think to myself, “Am I a feminist? Who do I say that I am?” The answer is not simple nor is it easily articulated.
I am not seeking to become a pastor because I think I have a right to do so, but because I believe I am called by God. Having received this call, I have had to wrestle with Scripture, knowing that a call contrary to Scripture is not from God. Through study I have become convinced that for a woman to teach and have authority over men is in accord with Scripture. Does this make me a feminist or a careful exegete?
Does it make me a feminist that I am a woman seeking to enter the ordained ministry, traditionally a male occupation? In some ways, yes. Clearly I as a woman believe I am called and capable of carrying out the tasks involved, and I am willing to do the required preparation and jump the inevitable hurdles to get there. So in that sense I am a feminist, willing to face challenges caused by my gender. But I stop short of responding to these hurdles in ways that put my gender before the gospel.
As a minister my priority will be to proclaim the good news of life in Christ. The first thing I desire to present is Christ and him crucified, not my gender (or any other issue for that matter—although Gospel does speak to issues and inform our responses to issues).
God does not conform to human images of God. God is not ignorant, weak, maneuverable, passive, or gender limited. We are in God’s image; God is not in ours. When we teach the full counsel of Scripture, we understand that God is above our petty disagreements over gender, and is more concerned about his relationship with us than our religious vocabulary. Therefore I am not going to present God as limited by our human descriptions, but as all powerful, all knowing, holy, righteous, and just.
If I sought to become a minister of gender issues or of some goddess, I would seek those titles in a social work office or in another religion. But I am seeking to become a minister of Jesus Christ because that title reflects accurately my call and my beliefs.
So while my gender raises questions for some people, my gender is neither my priority nor my soap box. As I prepare to be a minister of the Gospel, it saddens me when the question is whether or not I am a feminist, rather than whether or not I know Christ and him crucified, risen, and coming again. But that is what I do know, and that is what I seek to proclaim.