On Sunday, we celebrated Women’s Equality Day at the New Church of Montgomery. Gathered readings from the Bible and from Emanuel Swedenborg illustrate how patriarchal and patrilineal societies affect writers of sacred texts. The effect these writings have on the communities that use them can create/sustain multigenerational belief systems that oppress people, and ascribe gender roles the writers believe they should have.
I chose to start the service with the Our Father to make us think. We discussed the choice of this, and that some begin prayers with “Mother/Father God” to include women in the spectrum of spirituality.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, now and forever, Amen.
Matthew 19:4: Jesus said (of Gen 1:27) “at the beginning, God created them male and female.”
Luke 13:16: Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
Here, I mentioned Leviticus 12:1-5, ESV and the belief that women were unclean after giving birth; longer if they’d given birth to a female child.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.”
I talked about the letters from Paul to Timothy (2) and the Corinthians (14) relegating women to second class in society, and how that has influenced the church even to today.
Timothy 2:11-15: 11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Corinthians 14:34-35: “Women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church.”
Some of these readings are generally thought to be from a source other than Paul.
But, even in our more liberal, accepting Swedenborgian theology at the Convention Church, we are not immune from the writings of men of their day. Swedenborg says of women who preach:
Spiritual Experiences (Buss) n. 5936
WOMEN WHO PREACH.
Women who think in the way men do on religious subjects, and talk much about them, and still more if they preach in meetings, do away with the feminine nature, which is affectional; owing to which they must be with married men: they also become material, so that affection perishes and their interiors are closed. They also begin to develop a tendency, as regards the thoughts, to take up with crazes; which takes place because the affection, being then destroyed, causes the intellectual to be crazy. In outward form, indeed, they are still able to appear like other women. In a word, they become sensual in the last degree. Woman belongs to the home; and she [becomes] of a different nature where [she engages in] preaching.
Swedenborg ascribes correspondences of masculine and feminine qualities to Divine Love and Wisdom. Outwardly and inwardly, we can find problems with that estimation as we seek to understand all our our nature as not one gender or the other, but containing parts of each; fluidity in manifestation and inner knowing.
From here we talked about women in the Bible who were beautiful, brave, acted against, loved, scorned, misunderstood. Esther, her husband’s first wife, Vashti. Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, Bathsheba, Martha.
I had asked members of our clergy who refer to themselves as women to please respond to how the Convention church views and encourages women in the role of minister, or how people react to you as women ministers.Here are a couple of the responses I received:
Denomination President, Rev. Jane Siebert
There are several things I have noticed being a woman minister in the Swedenborgian Church.
It is not that women are better than the men, it is that the approach, the insight, the sharing may be different, and provide the variety that Swedenborg alludes to in creating heaven.
Men and women ministers provide balance in meetings and gatherings. The Council of Ministers meets yearly and our meetings are about 1/2 male/female. The meetings are helpful, cooperative, supportive, functional with good camaraderie. I was ordained in 2004 and the ratio was closer to 1/4. I have seen these meetings evolve in love and wisdom coming together as additional women have joined the clergy over the years.
To the question about Convention supporting women’s ordination, I can’t imagine it any other way.
Women are as qualified as men to respond to God’s call to serve through being a minister. How could a group of men think they can tell a woman that her call is not the same as theirs? God calls, not individuals.
I have been ordained in the Swedenborgian Church of North America for eleven years. I have served as parish minister (was installed as Pastor) for the Lansing Swedenborgian Church or Lansing Spiritual Center. We closed our doors in 2014. I have been Religious Advisor for the campus ministry, Q-CROSS@MSU since 2012.
It’s important for me to recognize this conversation as one that appears to be framed in the context of the gender binary of male/female.
I am a cis-gender female who understands that this binary of male/female is outdated. I spend the majority of my time in a community that operates past this binary. Gender is a spectrum which includes (but not limited to) trans, gender queer, gender non-conforming, and non-binary folks.
Yes, our denomination ordains women and that is something to be celebrated. However, there are members of the Council of Ministers who I believe don’t support the ordination of women and/or queer identified folks. Misogyny is imbedded in a lot of the church structure. The culture and environment is male-centric. What does it mean to be ordained in this tradition? It means that while some folks celebrate who I am, the work that I accomplish is still viewed in comparison to my male counterparts. We still have a long way to go and at the same time the work is and can be filled with joy! It is an emotional roller coaster being a minister, but it’s who God calls me to be everyday.
I am so glad that I chose this difficult topic as a starting point for a discussion that has been going on long before me. I hope it continues to keep us awake and loving; welcoming, accepting and above all, open to change. We will create Heaven on Earth if we welcome all of God’s creation into our human framework of equality. Amen.
~Maggie Panyko, Lay-leader
Closing Hymn: Bread and Roses, performed by MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir at Memorial Hall, Cincinnati.