An Honest Column What I Really Think About Opposition To Women In Ministry. -- By: John E. Phelan

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 16:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: An Honest Column What I Really Think About Opposition To Women In Ministry.
Author: John E. Phelan


An Honest Column
What I Really Think About Opposition To Women In Ministry.

John E. Phelan

John J. Phelan is president and dean of North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago; he is also professor of biblical literature. A former pastor, he was executive director of Covenant Publications prior to assuming the North Park Seminary presidency. He will be among the speakers at the CBE International Conference scheduled for Orlando in August 2003.

Those of us who defend women in ministry are used to making careful biblical and theological cases, wrestling with the difficult texts as well as the occasional difficult person. We are used to listening earnestly to people who argue against women in ministry with furrowed brows and trembling chins. We aspire to be thoughtful, reasoned, and respectful because, Lord knows, we don’t want to make things any harder for women in ministry. Secretly most of us, I suspect, are sick of this circumspection and caution. For even with all our care we are frequently accused of “cramming women in ministry down our throats.”

Recently an incident occurred that has finally caused me to want to take the gloves off and write an honest column. During a mid-winter pastors’ conference, at an evening service I heard one of the most brilliant and stirring sermons I have ever heard. It was preached by Brenda Salter McNeil, an African American woman. The power and presence of the Spirit of God was palpable. After thinking about it for a few days I have decided to say what I really think about opposition to women in ministry. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd.

This emperor has no clothes and hasn’t had them for a long time. Listening to someone oppose women in ministry is like listening to a medieval surgeon defending the use of bloodletting. This is not to say that the reasoned defense of women in ministry shouldn’t go on. I tried such a reasoned defense last summer in a sermon at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church and hope to see that material in print some day. But it really comes down to this: Women have shown themselves capable of excelling in virtually ever sphere of human endeavor as leaders and visionaries. They have offered leadership in academia, written some of our most learned treatises, and made some of our most significant scientific discoveries. They have skillfully led major corporations and government agencies, as well as cities, states, and entire countries. We have skillful theologians, thoughtful writers, eloquent preachers, and outstanding missionaries who are women. And yet, knowing all this, we say women should not be called to lead some sixty-member congregation in Kansas! I say it again—this is ridiculous!

I actually think many of the proponents of this position know it is ridiculous. But in my opinion they a...

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