I spent last week at a conference for Air Force Reserve chaplains. I’m happy to say, this time I was not the only woman there! There were eight of us, out of about 200, and I found out that women make up eight percent of the reserve Chaplain Corps. Of course it would be great if there were more of us, but it’s not the low numbers that get under my skin.
It was that, as I looked around the room, I realized there were more than a few people who thought I shouldn’t be there - that because of my gender, I have no place as a spiritual leader. That I am not an equal. I should caveat this by saying: there are many denominations represented in the Chaplain Corps that don’t ordain women and don’t support women in ministry; this by no means indicates that all chaplains ordained to these groups agree with this position. Some of the most supportive and life-giving mentors I have in the Air Force come from non-gender-inclusive denominations, yet seek ways to empower their female colleagues.
But when I come face-to-face with someone who doesn’t believe I should have a seat at the table, I feel my ire rise.
I want to raise my daughter in a post-feminist world. I am starting from the assumption that we are equally loved, with equal opportunities available to us.
And that’s just it. These are my starting points, my assumptions. Although I wasn’t raised in a Biblically egalitarian environment, I was raised with messages of God’s love, mercy, and acceptance for all. So really, although my parents (hi mom! hi dad!) would probably say I’ve ::ahem:: “progressed” in many ways from the faith of my youth, as I see it, it was really only the natural progression. In many ways I am still the product of my initial inputs. (which is why I take theological parenting so seriously!)
And that got me thinking about everyone else’s initial inputs; about the inputs of my colleagues who may not recognize the validity of my ministry. I would argue that my understanding of God and the story of scripture can lead to no other place than full inclusion and equal opportunity for all. But not everyone will come to that conclusion, and not everyone is starting at the same point. In fact, our experiences and our personal stories ensure we are all most decidedly not starting from the same point - any of us!
My fingers fight against me as I type this, but I could be wrong.
I could misunderstand and misinterpret who God is, what the arc of scripture is, and thus my actions that flow from these beliefs could be problematic. This raises a whole host of existential, philosophical questions that really bummed me out when I first started thinking through them. I’ve been wrestling with issues of Truth vs. truth, of scriptural primacy, of nihilism and gnosticism. And as I find words for these questions, I’m going to do my best to articulate them here.
But what I’ve come back to during other “I could be wrong” moments is another message imprinted on me early in life: God’s grace.
I am - we all are - doing the best I can with what I have: with whatever sum of knowledge, understanding, and action my personal story delivers. So yah, maybe I’m getting it all wrong. Fortunately, there’s a lot of room for grace in our world.
(What if I’m getting God’s grace all wrong, you ask? Yep, I’ve thought of that too ~ more to come!)