Dear Carolyn, I am a female and am on the path to ordained ministry in a mainline Protestant denomination. I am secure in my call to ministry and to becoming a pastor. But I was recently at an event where I met an older gentleman who is from a more traditional and conservative branch of Christianity. Throughout our conversation, he said 3-4 times at least (always trying to pass it off as a joke) that I shouldn’t be a pastor because I am a woman, that I should rethink my career… I can respect his beliefs even though I think he is fundamentally wrong. But how can I extricate myself politely from this situation? I know that I will encounter this attitude again, and I want to be better prepared to handle it.
Carolyn suggests saying “Obviously I disagree. Shall we talk/joke about something else?” while two others throw in with “You are absolutely correct, but I wanted to be certain of my calling before scheduling the sex change surgery” and “My call to ministry is between God and me, and my church has recognized and encouraged it.” I’m not sure exactly what to add to this really. What I think the questioner is asking for is a firm statement to show that she’s serious about her call towards ministry and her church supports her. I don’t know if there is such a statement, really, except for the fact that more than half of the students attending our seminaries are women and that (hopefully) by the time I retire, the amount of women clergy in the ELCA will match the percentage of women in the US (or at least be close). And if we could get a nice number of bishops in there too, I’d appreciate it. I don’t think, for the time being, that this question will go away any time soon. Even with the rise of some women leadership among the younger set in the “evangelicals,” I doubt that the total number of Americans attending churches where female leadership is the norm will happen anytime soon. So, since the ELCA is a minority in this regular, I think the ELCA should approach this issue with guns ablazing. I’d like to see more women considered for positions of leadership within Synods – say, at the dean level. I’d like to see them included in the planning process. And, for us here in Metro-New York, I’d also like to see lay women to have leadership roles and positions in the new Strategic Planning committees that are being developed. And by lay women, I don’t mean deacons. To keep advancing to make women’s leadership a normal thing, supporting well qualified women who are within the church but not with traditional access to leadership areas, should be pushed. And it wouldn’t be hard – I think. Just based on numbers, the Metro-New York Synod already has quite a bit of women leaders that could be harnessed to find more. And they should. Or else we run the risk of spending time on a Strategic Plan that’s just filled with group think and everything will remain the same.