Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!
by Jan Edmiston
My General Assembly travels took me to a consultation in Magnano, Italy in early October to meet with leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations. The discussion focused on the ordination of women – specifically as deacons – which is under consideration now in both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. To be clear, the conversation is about studying the ordination of women deacons and not necessarily about ordaining women deacons.
We were diverse in everything from gender to skin color to nationality – as well as theology. I looked around the room and saw some of my clergywomen sheroes and people who would become sheroes.
I presented a brief talk on the challenges of Reformed denominations in the United States (PCUSA, UCC, RCA) and shared the issue of diversity. As a member of the predominantly white PCUSA and a Mid-Council leader, our challenges – I said – include the need for more opportunities for women of color.
After I spoke, one of the Orthodox leaders quietly informed me that women are not created in the image of God. (I asked him to repeat himself because I was pretty sure he said that women were not created in the image of God.) He clarified that “men are created in the image of God and women are created in the image of men.”
It was going to be an interesting week.
Theological diversity is tricky. I find myself giving up almost immediately when a Christian sibling informs me that women cannot speak in church or – God forbid – LGBTQ people cannot even be in church. I am tired of having this talk with my more conservative friends. There is too much work to do for us to keep having that conversation. And yet, we need to keep having that conversation in some circles.
In Magnano, we were the most diverse community I’ve worked with in a long time. But in spite of the array of languages, skin colors, and dress, some of us were miles apart theologically. We all love Jesus, but our understanding about whom God calls varies widely.
As a person who had never seen a clergywoman until my first day of seminary, I understand the process of expanding our realization about who could possibly be called to serve in offices of ordained ministry. And it is a process. I’ve come to see that some of us are called to keep moving forward and let those who are still grappling with issues about “ordination standards” continue to grapple in their own timeline. And then there are others of us who are called to sit with those who are not yet with us and patiently, prayerfully continue to have that conversation, modeling the love of Jesus. The hard part is authentically seeing each other with the eyes of Christ.
As for me, I am still able to have those conversations with those who do not yet embrace what I know to be true: that God calls women and our LGBTQ siblings into ordained leadership. But it’s not easy.
Jan Edmiston is Co-Moderator of the 222and General Assembly of the PCUSA. She is a Teaching Elder member of Chicago Presbytery.