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Women in Ordained Ministry

Women in ordained ministry
By Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker

When the bishop and cabinet of district superintendents make appointments of pastors to local churches, sometimes there is resistance by members to receiving a pastor who is female. In spite of the fact that our church has ordained women for 50 years, resistance to women in ministry still exists.

Why would such resistance persist in the churches? Sometimes, there is a theological objection to women in ministry. It is rare to hear theological objections similar to those offered by the Catholic or Orthodox churches. We who are in the Protestant tradition can hardly understand, much less embrace, the theological arguments for having only male priests to represent Christ because he was male. However, we do hear theological objections that come from evangelical or fundamentalist circles of influence. Because I Timothy 3:2 alludes to a pastoral overseer being the husband of one wife, it is argued that having a woman in ordained ministry is “unbiblical.” Our response to such arguments could be that we are not a fundamentalist church, but we interpret Scripture in light of tradition, reason and experience. Nevertheless, a close reading of the New Testament, which discloses how women were the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (see Luke 24: 22-24), or how they were engaged in tasks of apostolic ministry (see Romans 16), easily provides the biblical foundation for the ordination of women in ministry.

Without respectable Protestant theological objections to women in ministry, there can be only one reason why there is sometimes resistance to the appointment of women as pastors in local churches. It is a matter of cultural custom. Some people can still remember when there were no women in ministry, and many more simply have never had the experience of having a female pastor.

Custom is no basis for objecting to women in ministry. The power of the Gospel that announces there is no longer male or female in Christ (Galatians 3:28) eventually crushes custom. The church fathers frequently commented on how Roman civil religion was based upon cultural custom and was swept away by the appearance of the Gospel of truth. As the ancient church discovered, the Gospel relativizes cultural customs contrary to it in every culture.

Our experience in The United Methodist Church is that even culturally conservative churches soon learn from experience that God calls and equips women in ministry when they receive a female pastor.

My own experience is that women are nearly always among the most capable and effective pastors in the church. Probably because they face constant resistance, they are more intentional and prepared than those of us who are male.

If your district superintendent announces that you are receiving a new pastor and “her name is … ,” then open your heart and church to receive her as the person sent to you to be a blessing because she is called by the Spirit of God.