“About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don’t go by one text only.”
“Saint Teresa of Ávila
The beloved saint opined on the voice of women in church back in the 1500s, yet nearly five hundred years later, many religions still want the primary voice from the pulpit to be baritone. This summer, the Vatican stirred another heated debate about women in the Catholic priesthood when it set new rules in July calling the attempted ordination of women a “grave crime” subject to the same set of procedures and punishments meted out for sex abuse.
It’s a crime because it’s not allowed within the laws of the Catholic Church, but why not? What is the establishment afraid of? If archaic culture has caught up with the times in other areas, why can’t religion follow suit?
Rev. Catherine Metivier, the vicar at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City, said it often takes seeing a woman at the pulpit to change people’s minds about women in the priesthood or powerful positions. Ordained in 2005, Metivier was raised Unitarian, converted to Catholicism after college and left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church after attending a service through family connections.
When she first converted and her father brought up the restrictions for women in the Catholic Church, she recalled telling him, “Why would a woman want to be a priest, anyway?”
“As a woman, I still see the cultural sexism,” Metivier said. “I understand that’s a fact of life. Just like racism exists, sexism exists.”
The debate reminds her of the movie “South Pacific” where one of the men says, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”
“A lot of it depends on how you were raised thinking men are the ones to be leaders,” she said.
As the first female priest in an older congregation, Metivier said it took a while to earn respect. She recently presided over a funeral, and the widow came up to her after and said, “Now I know a woman priest is OK.”
“Sometimes, it’s just what you know, what you’re used to,” Metivier said. She credits both female and male support to help articulate the gifts and blessings of women priests.
Molly Bernard, the newly minted president of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City and a cradle Catholic, believes that women have a very public voice in the church, despite the exclusion from the holy vestments.
“I do not feel restrained as a Catholic woman. I feel that I can do whatever I need to do to make an impact,” Bernard said. “The archdiocese fosters an appreciation for the insight that women bring.”
She cited a recent project on a sanctuary for women. “The archbishop let us run with it, and it was wonderful.”
Regarding the Vatican’s position on the ordination of women, Bernard said, “I’ve grown up with that. I will follow what the Vatican says. If it opens up, that’s fine, too. We have so many avenues now, with lots of women ministries. I think we can be the agents of change as much as we want to be.”
Not every Catholic feels fine with the status quo. The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) is the largest and oldest organization that focuses solely on ordination of women. On the group’s website, visitors are asked to sign the petition denouncing the oppression of women and the inadequate response to child sex crimes.
Others focus not on the restrictions, but on the advancements within their denominations. Teresa Brady, a pastor’s wife and also the daughter of a pastor, is pleased with the advances in women’s ministries in the Southern Baptist Church. Brady is active in women’s ministries both on a local level at the First Baptist Church in Newalla as well as speaking at the Baptist convention and conferences for women.
“It’s much more open,” Brady said. “Women’s Bible study pioneers like Beth Moore and Kay Arthur paved the way. Now we have all kinds of authors.”
The Southern Baptist Convention rules prohibit Brady from being a paid minister alongside her husband although she went to seminary, but she doesn’t mind.
“Honestly, I get the spotlight enough, and I don’t want that. God has given me such a ministry,” she said. “I feel that I am not just a complement to him (her husband), but a completer to God’s plan and purpose for the kingdom work. God needs me in this.”
Brady has gone through many trials, including losing their large New Orleans church in Hurricane Katrina, and she blogs about her experiences and her faith. She doesn’t care much for labels, yet she is careful about her word choice.
“When Beth Moore gets up to preach a sermon, I wouldn’t call her a preacher, but a proclaimer,” she said.
Brady believes all women are ministers, even if it’s just in their home, but believes men make better pastors.
“Men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. Men can compartmentalize. With women, everything runs together,” she said.
Brady is referencing a book with the same title that is popular on the church circuit.
Pastor Jennifer Crow, a co-minister at Victory Church, a non-denominational, independent church she started with her husband 17 years ago in Oklahoma City, warns against such sweeping generalizations about gender differences.
“We go by personality strengths,” Crow said of she and her husband’s duties in their congregation. “We are both verbal communicators, and we’ll both be on the platform teaching. I take on more creative aspects. I’m executive producer of our TV show and executive producer of original worship albums.”
The website, media and marketing are also under her leadership. “He does everything else,” Crow said. “I may oversee 20-25 percent of our organization.”
In addition to sharing a ministry, they also have five children, four of them now adults.
‘Different, but equal’
Crow believes there is still a stigma to women in ministry, which makes it a less desirable career path for young females. She points to the account of Genesis as the foundation for equality.
“Both Adam and Eve were told to be fruitful and subdue the earth,” Crow said. “Never were one to dominate the other person, but as co-rulers together in this world to utilize the resources God had given them and utilize them effectively. Human beings dominating another because of race, sex, religion ” that domination is not what God intended. He wanted man and woman to rule together as co-equals. Different, but equal.”
Metivier added that, just because the Holy See doesn’t want to see women in pastoral roles doesn’t mean all Catholics, or even priests, agree with that. She recalled taking a class with two men entering the priesthood. One said to her, “If I were the Pope, I’d let you become a priest.” Yet the other argued that, “If Jesus intended women to be priests, he would’ve had women disciples.”
Much like Saint Teresa did, Crow believes people are misinterpreting Bible passages and Jesus’ wishes.
“When Jesus came to earth, he addressed women in public, and that was a big no-no in Jewish culture back then,” Crow said. “He spoke to the woman at the well. He forgave her of her sin and said go tell the others in the village. She went and brought a whole bunch of other people, making her one of the first preachers of the Gospel. We have to go by Jesus’ example.”
Crow thinks it will take more people looking at God’s true intention for humanity and how God views human beings.
“There is no male or female on a spiritual level. We should determine what strengths are. The Bible backs up that Jesus had women in his inner circle, following him, using their funds, spreading the word.”
Metivier said that the “gender logic of old doesn’t fly. The questions should be: Who is Jesus calling today through the Holy Spirit?”
Crow said it’s the fallen nature of mankind to blame. “Male gender at its worst is insecure and prideful and worried that anyone would tell them what to do. Men at their best are humble, servant leaders. Whoever wants to yield their lives to Christ and see that the way to live a successful life is not dominating power, but to serve with humility and love. To the extent that other religions’ women are given ability to succeed and flourish, that’s when people are developing servant leadership.”
It’s not just the female faithful in churches who are striving toward equality, but women in mosques and temples, too.
Maureen Fiedler, author of “Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own Words,” interviewed women of all faiths who have broken barriers, and the author wrote that she believes that cultural shift will continue.
Metivier experienced one breakthrough in person when Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church on Father’s Day, June 18, 2006.
Upon leaving the service, Metivier overheard one male priest say to another, “What a wonderful Father’s Day gift we just got. How cool.” “Malena Lott
top photo Jennifer Crow, Victory Church
bottom photo Teresa Brady, wife of the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Newalla. Photo/Caitlin Lindsey