From the time we graduated from seminary and were married, I have been extremely blessed to serve alongside my wife in vocational ministry in the churches of which we have been a part. She is a wonderfully talented woman with passion and love for God and His people. Her pursuit of sharing the grace and peace of Jesus has taken her all over the world — in fact, to over forty nations. She can teach you about Chomsky and Dostoevsky, mid-century design and molecular gastronomy. Despite enduring much hardship in her life, she is extremely compassionate — often empathetic to a fault. She is a gifted preacher, having spoken around the country, and a talented worship leader, even being featured on a worship album.
And yet, in our years of ministry together, she is often seen as “the pastor’s wife.” Without taking anything away from the many faithful women who have been pastor’s wives, my wife is a pastor. In all honesty, she is more qualified for the task of vocational ministry than I am — and yet, while many people have no problem addressing me as “pastor” (which, in the hierarchical Korean American church, is an issue of respect and directly affects a person’s ability to lead) others struggle to afford my wife the same inherent respect.
This issue is much larger than just titles (which, in the end, don’t really mean that much to us). We are weary from this journey of constantly dealing with this disrespect of women in ministry — in large and small ways, from church members and other Christians outside of our churches. This quote from another woman in ministry over at Eugene’s blog hits really close to home:
talk to women and minorities in ministry. hear our stories of being belittled at dinner tables at pastors conferences, of constantly being referred to as a pastors wife, of sitting at a round table discussion on spiritual formation and the conversation turns to whether or not i should even be at the table, of being the only women in the room to sing the “female” part of a worship song…
Of course, I am deeply offended by this kind of ignorance because we are talking about my wife, but I also sense a larger vision of the church at stake here.
We believe deeply that the church is a living symbol of the new reality that Jesus made possible through His life, death and resurrection — in our individual lives, relationships, communities and for the world. Gender is one of the most difficult and divisive issues we face in our culture today. We believe that the church is called to embody the new and better way to be human that Jesus makes possible, including the role of women in leading the way in this story of redemption.
I have been a part of church circles that, because of their need to support a male-dominated, borderline misogynist culture, interpreted various Scriptures to mean that women could not be pastors, elders or leaders in the church, although they could teach children (which leads to a host of other issues). I believe that these particular views are wrong — that, while they might conveniently support the existing male-dominated system, they rely on a faulty hermeneutic. Scot McKnight and James Choung have written excellent articles about how Scripture supports women in all areas of leadership in the church.
This struggle is important because it reflects on the very nature of what God’s kingdom is all about. So, even though it is double the work (first, unlearning the old ways and then, taking on the new ways of the kingdom), we must continue to believe that it is worth it.