I appreciate Alastair’s highlighting the question of authority and reminding us that we all–male and female–must relate to church leadership with deference to their positions. I’d like to take this insight and marry it to Brownyn’s original question of
Is it really possible in practice to ask questions about men, women and authority in the church and “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, when deep in your heart you believe that anything other than your position actually would amount to usurping?
It seems to me that the question under the question is this: Where does a man in pastoral leadership derive his sense of authority? Does he see it as stemming more from his maleness or from his office?
If the answer is the former, a pastor will, albeit unintentionally, engage the female members of his congregation differently from the way he engages the male members of his congregation, leading to the abuses that Wilkin notes. This will happen because he will need to protect the boundaries of gender as a means of protecting his own pastoral authority.
This problem will most likely occur, not in conservative denominations across the board, but in those that do not have a strong ecclesiastical framework for ordination and/or definition of pastoral office. If any man (as opposed to woman) can sense a “call” or put himself up for leadership without a rigorous process of examination of his pastoral gifts, the effect is that his maleness has become a major component of his qualification. In such a context, authority has become deeply invested in gender rather than gender being one of many qualifications for a specific office that is itself endued with authority. And in such cases, women will be seen as an intrinsic threat to pastoral authority.