From the Jan/Feb, 2014 issue of Touchstone


The Quandary of the Good Woman Pastor by S. M. Hutchens


The Quandary of the Good Woman Pastor

During my years in doctoral study I was also settled, as the old term goes, as pastor over a small and rather sad Congregational church in a similarly small and sad denomination. In those days my views on women's ordination, at first neutral, were turning increasingly negative as I concentrated more on the issue theologically. As my catholic instincts strengthened during the course of my studies, so did my opposition to egalitarianism and all its works. In those days, however, I was still at the place where I declared that women's ordination was "not a hill I would die on."

It came to pass that I was summoned to an ordination council for a woman, so to operate there on the basis of some preliminary conclusions on the matter. This was to take place in a little country church somewhere in the fields of northwestern Illinois. I went with the intention of voting her down, and being the only negative vote if necessary, if I decided she was a wicked feminist who would poison her congregation with the doctrines of demons.

What I found instead was a jolly young farm wife, beloved of her husband and her small flock of old folks. She loved Jesus, believed the right things about him, and the extent of her theological education was no more than a few correspondence courses, perhaps from Moody Bible Institute: no one had steeped her in the feminism of the typical modern seminary. I assented to the ordination, laid hands upon her with the others, and doubt to this day whether I did the Kingdom much harm. She stands to me as a reminder that God brings good—as I have little doubt her ministry has been—out of the programs of ignorance and rebellion, a good of which I am myself a daily recipient.

Forced to a Decision

But I would not do this again; I would not even attend such a council, for she also stands for the quandaries imposed on the churches by the ordination of relatively orthodox women. Not only has its adoption done damage to ecumenical relations—those who do it usually displaying a fatuous confidence that "normal" is now defined by what happens in their corner of Christendom, and that the rest of the church will eventually see the light and come around, as if the rest of the church's objections amounted to nothing—but it has added what is in effect a kind of super-sect to Protestantism, so that those who hold to the Christian tradition in such matters find themselves forced to decide how they will approach those women pastors who profess the Creed and hold to Judeo-Christian moral law, but in relative innocence post the banner of revolt at desk and altar just by being at them.

The rule I have adopted amounts to, "treat them with good will, but don't worship with them," for placing women at the head of Christian worship makes ambiguous the very nature of the God they serve. These people, though not having crossed the line into full-blown egalitarian heresy, have not yet made the connection between their confession of belief in God the Father Almighty, the Lordship of Jesus Christ his only Son, and the symbolism of male primacy in Christian teaching and worship. They do not understand that a woman standing in places ordained for the man turns the faith they confess on its head. They have not rejected the symbolic meaning of maleness in biblical theology, as the true egalitarian has, but neither have they begun to understand it.

Those putting this novelty forward have done much damage in the way of fellowship-breaking, forcing Christians needlessly apart, and blaming those who will not accept their inventions for the resulting divisions. Even so, it seems right to me to attempt forming friendships with them and praying that the Lord will be with them to bring them joy and success in every good work.

Although I find it very difficult to call an ordained woman by a clerical title—and certainly do not recognize her "call" to the man's office as coming from God, but from the religious enthusiasm encouraged in ill-founded churches—I will do it on the basis of "that is what she is called." I believe it clearly wrong to have pulpit or altar fellowship with her, or to take part in any service, including those of ministeriums or other ecumenical ventures, that would indicate acceptance of the conditions under which the worship is being conducted. I would not put any of my people under a ministry in which she was functioning as pastor or teacher. This is an institution that needs to be vigorously discouraged.

Prepared for Rejection

These conditions are very much like those that arise between Protestants and Catholics, who are apt, or obliged, to view each other's ordinations as, in the words of Apostolicae Curae, "absolutely null and utterly void." We are not one big, happy family, but divided by what we cannot help but see as sin and error on the part of the other, and which conviction we cannot give up without irreparable damage to our own consciences—without willful abandonment of what we believe to be true, and to which we must hold in fear of abandoning the Lord who is himself Truth.

It is a good idea, especially for the pastor, to formulate reasonable rules of conduct for himself in this arena that match his convictions, have them ready to hand when required, and be able to explain them briefly and calmly when an explanation is called for—recognizing, of course, that such brief and calm explanations can result in various kinds of rejection, for in such matters the world, and a fair number of churches, are not on our side. The explanations represent a hill one will doubtless, in our day, be called to die upon, at least a little. • 

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and the book review editor of Touchstone.

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