In a pastors’ conference, the dynamic host pastor concluded a message by inviting forward for a special prayer of God’s blessing all those who were called to preach. Out of the large audience several hundred persons responded. All the respondents were men except one.
It was some time before the pastor noticed the one woman in the group of persons who stood before him to testify to God’s call to preach. Being of the Fundamentalist persuasion, he was noticeably irritated that a woman would consider herself eligible to preach the gospel. He proceeded to offer a clarifying statement as to the invitation he had given, adding the words that only men could receive his prayer of blessing for ministry.
Whether the woman failed to understand his refusal of her for inclusion in his prayer or was simply too humiliated to step aside or was actually being obstinate seemed unclear. However, the pastor interpreted her failure to step out of the group as a challenge to his spiritual authority. Before that large audience, he openly castigated her, citing rebellion against God as her terrible sin and comparing her to Jezebel. The woman certainly understood his meaning by now and retreated in tears with several other persons departing also.
When I think of this incident, I am made to think Author Howard A. Snyder is correct in stating, “I pray that someday the church will awaken and repent for what we have done to women in convincing them that they are not really, in the final analysis, equal with men in the church and, therefore, in God’s sight.”
But in The Wesleyan Church our heritage assures women equal access to ministry, doesn’t it? It is true that those churches in Wesleyan Arminian tradition have always been known for allowing women the right of passage into ministry. Church Leader Luther Lee ordained Miss Antoinette L. Brown to the ministry in our Church in 1853. Bishop B. T. Roberts, first bishop of Free Methodism, wrote the booklet, Ordaining Women, in 1891 in an effort to direct his young denomination as it hesitated to allow women into ministry. From its beginning in 1894, the Church of the Nazarene has provided for women to preach. Salvation Army Co-founder Catherine Booth was fully recognized as an effective minister and leader by 1850. Many similar examples could also be offered from other denominational histories.
However, the influence from those of other persuasions threatens to move us in practice away from this heritage. In an effort to strengthen their position against women in ministry, some opponents have irresponsibly tied this issue to pro-ERA, pro-abortion, and other feminist issues which are unrelated.
The hard facts are that young women ordained today in The Wesleyan Church do face prejudice against their ministry. Perhaps it is not an organized prejudice but a passive indifference. Let us be done with this error and restore openness for ministry to all God-called persons.
Perhaps the words of B. T. Roberts in 1891 are appropriate for today, “Men had better busy themselves in building up the temple of God, than to use their time in pushing from the scaffold their sisters, who are both able and willing to work with them side by side.”
Emery, O. D. (February, 1986). Women ministers . . . workers in exile? General Superintendents, 3.