I’ve heard particular male colleagues express it more than once. They hold inherent fears with regard to the ordination of women to ministry. One fear is prompted by sheer numbers. There are more women than men in the United States (women make up 51 percent of the population), and there are more women than men active in the life of the church. By some estimates, 75 percent of the people in the pew are of the female persuasion. Women could take over the profession! The other dominate fear is more personal. Collegiality between males and females is fodder for innuendo. In a profession in which we closely guard our reputations, the closed circle of male ministers has seemed safe. Two male ministers can share a lunch, and little is ever said. Allow a woman to sit at the same table, and stories can be conjured.
A week ago I preached in the pulpit of Gwen Brown. Gwen is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Grayson, Georgia, and recent recipient of the Baptist Women in Ministry’s Addie Davis Award for Outstanding Pastoral Leadership. The next day I emailed my Sunday sermon outline to Joy Yee. Joy is pastor of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, California, and former moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We exchange sermons each week to encourage and critique one another in the sermon prep process. Three days later I was sitting on our church platform with Ruth DuCharme, our minister of children. And that same evening I was sitting on a pew with Devita Parnell, listening to Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, preach just moments before participating in the ordination of Jessica Asbell.
I’m glad that neither my interpretation of scripture nor the cultural, often suspicious, concerns of others has kept me from enjoying a cherished collegiality with some of the most competent, compassionate and spirit-filled ministers I know. I choose friendship over fear. Amen.
Jim Dant is pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia. This article was published in the church’s August 1, 2010 bulletin.