Monday, June 18, 2007

Breaking The Glass Ceiling

In a recent blog, Al Mohler of the new Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote about the recent calling of Julie Pennington-Russell as senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. He correctly noted that there is usually a “glass ceiling” when it comes to the calling of women to pastorates. Moderate and liberal (he cited Baptists and Presbyterians) Christians who often affirm the calling of women to pastoral ministry are very hesitant to actually call women to their churches as pastors. Of course, Mohler was pleased with the phenomenon of the “glass ceiling” because he doesn’t think there should be women pastors - period. Mohler told his Southern Baptist supporters that the calling of women as pastors was not a “triumph” but a “tragedy.”

The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in January 2008 gives the wider Baptist fellowship an opportunity to show the American public (or anyone looking at us) that the calling of women is not a tragedy but indeed is a triumph of the liberating, equalizing Good News of Jesus. The meeting of cooperative Baptists will be a demonstration that pastoral ministry is based on calling and gifts rather than gender. What should be clear is that the calling of God means “sons and daughters will prophesy.”

One of the sermons at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant will be given by Julie-Pennington Russell. “Pastor Julie” graduated from Golden Gate Theological Seminary. Since seminary days, she has been the pastor of 19th Avenue Baptist Church, San Francisco, and for the last nine years, Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas. Two days ago, she was officially called as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. I expect it took a while for 19th Avenue members to forgive Calvary for taking Pastor Julie away to Waco and I know it is going to take a while for Calvary members to smile at Decatur folks!

While a seminary student, Julie experienced a transformation. Her prayers were transformed by the (human) boundary breaking Holy Spirit. She ceased praying that “orthodoxy” be restored to the thinking of some of the females on campus who were open to the idea of women pastors after the Holy Spirit convicted her that God calls and gifts men and women for ministry without gender restrictions. Julie’s point—then and now—is that God calls people to ministry. A person is not a male pastor or a female pastor. A person is called to be a pastor.

Of course Pastor Julie (what she is called by parishioners) is a model for women in ministry (don’t you think it is time that people who don’t affirm women as pastors quit using the phrase “women in ministry” and start using the phrasing “women in (male) selected ministries”?). Pastor Julie has been a wonderful model of a pastor for young women like her who have experienced a calling from God but know about the “glass ceiling.” I’ve seen young women—students so deeply conditioned by restrictions against their gender that ordination is called the “Scarlet O”—find encouragement and wisdom from Pastor Julie’s spiritual nurture. By the way, she is a wonderful model of ministry for males too. An excellent preacher able to reach a congregation of diverse economic realities and educational levels, a compassionate counselor, a visionary leader: these are all qualities that describe the pastoral ministry of Pastor Julie.

How is it that someone can suggest that the calling of a woman as a pastor is a tragedy? For some (but clearly not AL-L), they have only had the opportunity to hear certain types of people in the pulpit. If they did, they would recognize the liberating, equalizing nature of God’s Good News. There are many reasons to attend the New Baptist Covenant celebration next January. One surely is the opportunity to hear Pastor Julie preach. Bring a Bible with you. She preaches from the Word. And then throw it upward and I expect you will help to break that nasty stubborn “glass ceiling”. A (human) boundary breaking gift from the Holy Spirit is what you will receive.

Doug Weaver
(member of Calvary Baptist Church)

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